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SHARON Vocal Hall sees a future for old Columbia theater



Published: Wed, February 27, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The key to the plan is to take the building away from Columbia Theatre Inc.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

SHARON, Pa. -- Bob Crosby believes the Columbia Theater on West State Street, closed since its entryway was destroyed in a fire 21 years ago, could be reopened by fall.

But there's a lot of work to be done and a lot of cooperation needed before that can occur, said the new director of the Vocal Group Hall of Fame & amp; Museum in downtown Sharon.

Crosby, of Warren, said he and Tony Butala, one of the founders of the Hall of Fame, are working on a plan to make it happen.

Prior action: Butala, a Sharon native and a member of The Lettermen singing trio, has a long history with the Columbia. He now lives in California but said he remembers singing on the theater stage as a child.

He bought it at a tax sale in 1984 and sold it to Columbia Theatre Inc., a group formed to restore the 1,700-seat structure, for just $1.

Columbia Theatre Inc. put about $1 million into renovations over the years but said it would take another $2.5 million just to get the doors open and as much as $6 million for a full restoration.

The group announced last fall that it was unable to raise that kind of money, let alone find operating funds to keep the theater open, and therefore had abandoned the restoration effort to concentrate on theatrical programming for the community.

It put the theater up for sale, "which offended me," Butala said Tuesday at a meeting of a group of people still interested in seeing the theater restored.

Butala, noting that the hall of fame is now run by a private nonprofit foundation, said setting up a similar arrangement for the old theater would be a likely scenario.

The hall of fame and a reopened theater should work hand-in-hand to bring entertainment to the Sharon area, he said. The theater could be the site of fund-raising concerts to benefit the hall and groups inducted into the hall could perform at the theater, he said.

Monthly shows: Crosby, who started in the entertainment field with Dick Clark Productions and most recently ran Cafaro Field in Niles, said Butala's plan is a "common sense" approach.

He said he and Butala can get the entertainment talent needed to put on monthly shows and entice other promoters to rent the theater for their own productions. It could also be used as a community theater, he added.

Crosby predicted the theater could be restored to the point that it could open for shows this fall with complete renovation to be done over a longer period.

The key to the plan is getting control of the building and then finding the necessary funds to get the doors open, Crosby and Butala added.

Defunct? Some at the meeting suggested the Columbia Theatre board of directors is defunct and efforts should be made to dissolve that corporation and form a new one to take on the restoration effort.

Butala said he has scheduled a meeting with Columbia Theatre's executive director, Pamela Voisey, to discuss the status of the board and building ownership.

gwin@vindy.com




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