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Sample Future Columbia Theatre




Crosby said nearly a year ago that the state had promised $250,000 for Columbia renovations, with another quarter-million available if the hall could match the money. Even then, Sharon Mayor Bob Lucas and a spokesman for Gov. Edward Rendell called the announcement premature. “The governor likes to make those announcements,” Lucas said last week, and no announcement has been made. “We kind of pulled back from that because we have this large project going on,” Lucas said.

The large project is a $24 million, five-year effort to revitalize downtown Sharon, centered on Shenango Avenue Associates’ plan to build an $8 million, eight-story,
mixed-use building at Pitt Street and Shenango Avenue.

City officials hope the Shenango Avenue project can be used as a match to secure state and federal funding for other projects, including a riverwalk, renovating the city’s parking garage, a street extension, green spaces and renovation money for the Columbia, Lucas said.

The hall also has been put on the list for $5 million in Regional Capital Assistance Grant money,
which is state money funded by a bond issue for economic development projects. The program has no money, but Rendell wants to increase the program’s cap to generate
new funds, Longietti said, adding that some Republican officials oppose the proposal.

Longietti, who served on the Save the Columbia Theatre Committee that existed before Tony Butala bought the theater for the hall of fame, said he recently toured a theater in Easton, Pa., that has become an economic force in an area that is roughly the same size as the Shenango Valley.

“They’re holding 120 shows a year and have a very active community theater,” Longietti said. “I think what they’re doing could be a model for what they’re (Crosby and Butala) doing in Sharon.”

Even if any of these proposals come to fruition, they do not meet Crosby’s current needs. He has been relying on weekly help from residents of Sharon Community Corrections, a halfway house, to remove debris, paint and put up dry wall at the Columbia and the Phoenix building. What he needs are electricians and plumbers.

“We’re limited to things that can only be done without money,” Crosby said.

He said he had hoped local tradesmen would step in and complete specific tasks, such as a bathroom, but that has not happened.

So, Crosby keeps plugging away.“We think we’re doing the right things, but it’s progressing at a snail’s pace most of the time. We’re proud that we’re doing it despite the obstacles. There’s nothing else to do.”

A licensing agreement with public television stations has heightened the Vocal Group Hall of Fame’s visibility nationally. The hall’s Web site, www.vocalgroup.org, gets more than half a million hits a month, and officials receive e-mails asking when the next induction ceremony will be and the museum will be open.

“These are very, very good, signs,” said hall President Bob Crosby, who has volunteered his services to the hall for six years.Unfortunately, Crosby is not a magician. He can’t turn good signs into bricks and mortar. He has made some progress in renovating the Columbia Theatre and the former Phoenix building where the hall of fame, a piano bar, a banquet facility and offices would be located but concerts and museum exhibits still are a long way off.

The public television deal — in which hall merchandise is used for pledge drives has brought in new dollars, but they get eaten up in the $10,000-a-month expenses associated with the buildings, including mortgages and utilities.“It’s not enough,” Crosby said.

If he could get the buildings open, he could generate revenue, Crosby said. He can’t get the buildings open without revenue. If the vocal hall had a theme song, it’s title would be “Catch-22.” If only the hall’s building activities could mirror the success of the Truth in Music effort.

Headed by Jon “Bowzer” Bauman, the Truth in Music Committee has secured laws aimed at outlawinggroups that pass themselves off as the originals in 18 states, with legislation pending in another 12, including Ohio.“We’re doing really fantastic with Truth in Music,” Crosby said.

The hall hopes to celebrate its 10th anniversary this year with a five-day induction ceremony that would honor the classes of inductees from 2005, 2006 and 2007. Plans are to keep the event local the last ceremony, in 2004, was held in Wildwood, N.J. but no dates and places have been firmed up.

Again, the problem is money. Crosby said he needs $200,000 to $250,000 for inductions. The state appears to be ready to pony up $50,000, Crosby said, but this allocation has been pending for more than a year. The Shenango Valley Foundation is willing to front the money and be repaid by the grant, when it is released, and the Mercer County Convention and Visitors Bureau would grant another $50,000, Crosby said.

State Rep. Mark Longietti, D-7th District, Hermitage said he’s been assured by state officials the hall will get $25,000 soon, with another $25,000 coming from the next budget cycle.
That leaves the hall $100,000 to $150,000 short. Officials could press on and hope to recoup the remaining funds through the induction concerts and other activities, but the hall could stand to owe whatever it cannot raise. Officials still are paying off the 2003 inductions.

If the hall could get the money for inductions paid up front, then it could use gate receipts from tickets sales at the induction concerts for whatever officials please, such as renovating its buildings.

By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer


By 1933, the Theatre operated a split week policy: part of the week was devoted to first run movies and part to  vaudeville shows. This continued into the 1940's when  the theatre was aquired by Warner Brothers and into the  50s as it changed hands once again. By the 1960s  however, motion pictures had replaced live programming  and the theatre began to feel financial pressure from the  suburban multiplex cinemas.

During the mid-1980s several renovation projects  were undertaken which stabilized the facility but did  not replace the building or theatrical systems.  Projects continued through the late 1980s and into  the early 1990s as the funding and need presented  themselves. Although the facility as it exsists has  cosmetic deficiencies, the Columbia Theatre was built  of steel and concrete and remains structurally sound,  retaining the basic elements
of heronce elegant interior.


Current Progress and
Work Remaining

Vocal Group Hall of Fame President Bob Crosby sloshes through the basement of the Columbia Theatre Saturday as he shows off the work that’s been accomplished at the Sharon landmark. He’s faced an uphill battle securing cash to get the hall — and the Columbia — up and running. Benjamin Brown basks in the glow beneath the restored dome of the Columbia Theatre. Brown, of Sharon Community Corrections, a halfway house, is working full-time cleaning up the place.Benjamin Brown shows off some of his handiwork: fresh plaster on the wall of the balcony of the Columbia Theatre.

man walks across cat walk high above theatre floor

Work Continues on The Columbia Theatre despite the availability of Grant Funding

The Theatre's grand opening featured
Nance O'Neil, and from what we hear, was
jam packed. As you can see, King Kong was showing when the theatre opened, and downtown Sharon was a lot different.Just like a family, each community has hundreds of stories to tell about itself,stories about the history and people, the places and events that make it so special.
In Mercer County one of the most amazing
and inspiring stories that can be told is
about the Columbia Theatre.

 The Columbia Theatre first opened on
November  29,  1922, as part of the
Columbia Amusement  Company's system
of company-owned vaudeville  facilities.
With imported marble staircases to the
 balcony, ornate plaster medallions and
grillwork,  the  auditorium seated 1,700 and featured a full  stage,  orchestra pit, seven dressing rooms,  projection  booth and theatre office. The  Columbia was hailed  as the
"finest theatre  between Pittsburgh and Erie",  providing the  ultimate in patron comfort
and modern  theatrical  systems. From its earliest beginnings, the  Columbia Theatre was meant to be more than a  place where vaudeville was presented; it was to  be  a palace where entertainment for everyone  could  be experienced in the opulent surroundings.

The Columbia was the grandest of the Mercer  County  theatres. Now it is the only survivor,  outliving the  Gable, Nulluna, Capital, Colonial, and  Strand. Its rich  history and architecture
is a legacy  of an era of  America's great theatres and movie  palaces. No  modern building can duplicate this  heritage.

This picture was taken after the theatre was acquired in 1984. You can see that the ern to the left was damaged by water, and the right one was taken to be kept in safe-keeping. The area of deteriation was caused becuase of a pipe going down the wall that had broken, and leaked into the plaster.

Building Program Master Plan & Cost Estimate

Building Program Master Plan & Cost Estimate

Building Program Master Plan & Cost Estimate

Building Program Master Plan & Cost Estimate
Building Program Master Plan & Cost Estimate

Building Program Master Plan & Cost Estimate

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