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SHARON Columbia theater board remains active



Published: Thu, February 28, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The board is willing to meet with others who have plans for restoring the theater.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

SHARON, Pa. -- Rumors that the Columbia Theatre Inc. board of directors is defunct are just that -- rumors, the group's executive director says.

There is an active 13-member board that had a meeting as late as Monday, said Pamela Voisey, adding that the organization is putting on a version of "Snow White" next weekend.

Questions about the status of the board and its decision last fall to give up efforts to restore the Columbia Theater on West State Street have prompted a new development effort spearheaded by Tony Butala of The Lettermen and others.

Butala said Tuesday that he and others want to get control of the Columbia and renew restoration efforts on the historic theater that has been closed since its entryway was destroyed in a 1981 fire.

Columbia Theatre Inc. was able to put about $1 million into the building but said a full restoration would take as much as $6 million more.

Purchase: Butala, a Sharon native who now lives in California, bought the Columbia at a Mercer County tax sale in 1984 and gave it to the restoration group for $1. He said he thinks he and others can get the theater back into operation within a year.

It won't be a full restoration, but it would be enough to get the doors open and bring in shows to raise money for further improvements, he said.

Voisey said Wednesday that in September, the theater was for sale, and that Columbia Theatre Inc. would like to sell it to a group with which a partnership could be formed to ensure that Columbia Theatre Inc. could use the facility.

"We had several inquiries that didn't pan out," she said, adding that if someone else has a plan for the theater, they should approach the board with a formal proposal. "No one has approached us with a valid offer."

The organization plans to list the theater with a real estate broker soon and attempt to market it in that fashion, Voisey said.

Columbia Theatre Inc. might be willing to transfer ownership to another nonprofit entity but would still want to be able to use the facility for performances should it be restored, she said.

She said the board has agreed to meet with Butala but hadn't heard from him in about a month.

Butala, who said he was offended by the board's decision to sell the theater, said he hopes to schedule that meeting soon.

Search for funds: Voisey said the organization "exhausted all the possibilities" in trying to find restoration funds and found little financial support in the Shenango Valley.

"It's a real shame that it [the restoration] didn't come to pass, but who's going to write the check?" she asked. "This is a community failure, not a board failure."

Members of Butala's group have suggested efforts be made to dissolve Columbia Theatre Inc. and that a new organization be formed to take on the restoration.

Butala said he favors creation of a nonprofit foundation to take over the theater.

gwin@vindy.com




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