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SHARON Resident sets his sights on the Columbia Theater



Published: Thu, May 30, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Sharon native said Columbia Theatre Inc. board members have told him they plan to sell the theater at auction.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

SHARON, Pa. -- Tony Butala is taking his effort to get control of the Columbia Theater to the public.

Butala, a Sharon native and member of The Lettermen singing trio, said the theater would be "a hand-in-glove" match with the Vocal Group Hall of Fame & amp; Museum that he and businessman James E. Winner Jr. founded.

The theater would be a natural place to have induction ceremonies and concerts, he said.

The Columbia, closed since its entryway was destroyed by a fire in 1981, has had much of its interior ornate plaster and furnishings destroyed or extensively damaged by water that leaked into the building and a lack of heat over the years.

Butala bought it at a tax sale in 1984 and gave it to Columbia Theatre Inc., a nonprofit group formed to renovate and reopen the West State Street theater.

The group put about $1 million into the building but was never able to raise the estimated $6 million needed for a full restoration and announced last fall that it planned to sell the structure.

When Butala, who lives in California, heard about the plan, he began efforts to try to get control of the theater.

Bob Crosby, director of the Vocal Group Hall of Fame & amp; Museum, said the building could be opened with just enough improvements to meet safety codes.

He said numerous nationally known musical groups have offered to put on benefit concerts to help raise the money to complete the renovation and keep the theater operating.

Butala said the Vocal Group Hall of Fame is run by a nonprofit corporation and the Columbia could be linked under the same umbrella.

Unsuccessful efforts

His efforts to get control of the building, including offering Columbia Theatre Inc. $10,000 to pay off the bills it owes on the structure, have been unsuccessful, he told a group of about 50 people gathered at the Sharon municipal building Wednesday.

Butala said he was told by theater board members that the group has decided to sell the theater at auction, perhaps within a few weeks.

Efforts by The Vindicator to reach the group's representatives over the past several days have been unsuccessful. A call to the board president wasn't returned, and its executive director referred questions to Atty. Richard Epstein, who couldn't be reached to comment.

Seeking public's help

Butala said he's enlisting public support to put some pressure on the board to give him and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame a chance to resurrect the theater.

If someone else buys it, there's no guarantee it will reopen as a theater, he said.

Several people suggested that a petition-signing drive to encourage the theater board to sell the building to Butala might help.

Butala said he hasn't given up his plan, and he promised to keep the public informed of his efforts.

gwin@vindy.com




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