This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website.
WEST CHESTER — Uptown! Entertainment Alliance has been working to bring a theater to West Chester for over five years, but during that time, it has all been coming together either in drawings and writing.
Now, the reality is here as Uptown! (UEA) celebrated its groundbreaking Wednesday evening.
“Somebody has an idea, they talk with their friends, the idea becomes a solid dream and the dream becomes a reality,” said West Chester Mayor Carolyn Comitta. “This is going to be a reality that’s going to be fantastic for our children, for our families and for all of our community members right here in the borough, all across Chester County and the region. West Chester is a beacon for the arts and culture and for people to come together, celebrate life and all that’s beautiful about it.”
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What started off as just a simple conversation between Tom McEvoy and Richard May has become that reality as UEA now takes that next step with construction starting this week on the inside of the old National Guard Armory building on High Street.
“I want to thank all the people who have worked so hard the last five-and-a-half years to get us to this point,” said McEvoy, president of UEA.
The armory, built in 1916, has been vacant since 2013, leaving the almost 11,000-square-foot structure to just sit there and deteriorate.
With UEA now in possession of the building, the nonprofit group plans to preserve and repurpose it and turn it into the place everyone in the county and surrounding areas will want to come for the arts.
“The real great thing about is that we were able to get this building transferred to a specific group,” said state Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-19, of West Whiteland, who was an integral piece of UEA acquiring the armory. “Almost every other armory in the commonwealth went on the marketplace for the highest bidder. Because we were able to legislate this in a way where it went for a specific purpose to a specific owner, we were able to accomplish this. That’s the absolute key as we not only preserve these properties, but make sure that they go to the best use for our community.”
West Chester has been without a theater since the early 1980s when the Warner Theatre closed.
“There was a group of us…doing our best to keep the theater in downtown West Chester,” Comitta said of the Warner Theatre. “We lost that theater, but we got a beautiful hotel. Here we are today with the dream of having a theater in our uptown is coming true. This is one of those many projects in this town where people say, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.’ Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’ That’s how we get things done.”
Dozens of people came out Wednesday evening for the groundbreaking ceremony, including many borough and county representatives. In addition to Comitta and Dinniman, state Rep. Dan Truitt, R-156, of East Goshen, attended the event along with a representative from the office of U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, R-6, of West Goshen.
“I always tell kids when I see them we live in the greatest county in the greatest state in the greatest country in the world,” Truitt said. “But the one thing I knew we were missing was a theater. I’m truly excited to see this happening finally after all these years.”
Truitt presented McEvoy and the rest of UEA with a gift of the cover of the House Bill which authorized the transfer of ownership of the armory to UEA, along with Gov. Tom Wolf’s signature and a pen from the bill signing ceremony.
UEA has raised over $3.1 million for the theater and, though construction will be moving forward, is still roughly $900,000 shy of its fundraising goal.
The theater, which will be home to a variety of arts, including film, live performances, dancing and more, is slated to have its grand opening on New Year’s Eve 2016.
McEvoy promised the excited crowd that it will be the party of the decade opening night.
“Last year we were voted the sixth happiest county in the country,” said Michelle Kichline, county commissioner. “I think now that we have a theater, we’re going to bump it up to No. 1.”