Group floats plan to revive West Shore Theatre
The West Shore Theatre, a longtime landmark in downtown New Cumberland, may be on the road to a comeback.
A community group called the Friends of the West Shore Theatre has started raising money for a planned renovation of the single-screen theater, which closed in 2017. The theater was purchased last year by a father and son, Joe and Ben Kowalczyk, who plan to lease it to the nonprofit group to run.
The group hopes to revive the theater and staff it with volunteers. The venue would serve as a community theater showing movies and hosting music concerts and other live performances.
The Friends group held a fundraiser at the theater last week, dubbed Encore! Encore!, which raised about $15,000.
Officials for the group declined to comment on how much money is needed to start renovations. The group said a business plan with final costs is still being worked out. The start of construction will depend on a capital campaign to raise the funds. Renovations could be done in phases as funds are available.
"We'd like to be open again this time next year," said Dan Burke, a member of the group, which also is receiving donations through The Foundation for Enhancing Communities.
Meanwhile, Harrisburg-based architect Chris Dawson has created a concept plan to guide the renovations. The plan calls for removing some theater seats in favor of bar-style seating in the rear and booth seating along the sides.
Other proposed changes include adding a dance floor and new stage at the front of the theater. The lobby and reception areas would be expanded, and there would be a new concessions stand and handicapped-accessible restrooms.
The shuttered theater also needs a new projector and sound systems for movies and live entertainment. Burke said the goal is for the theater to be open five days per week.
The task ahead may seem daunting, especially as smaller independent theaters struggle to compete with streaming services like Netflix, but the Friends group is optimistic about the future of the West Shore Theatre.
"We've got a lot of enthusiasm," said attorney David Stone. He said about 350 people attended the community fundraiser.
The group also has been receiving a lot of small donations from people who couldn't attend the event, including many people who grew up in New Cumberland but now live elsewhere.
Christine Leukus, president of the New Cumberland Olde Towne Association, sees the theater as an anchor to bringing new business back to the borough.
"We want to be a destination town," she said.
Indeed, several new restaurants and retailers have been opening in New Cumberland over the last two years.
The former Coakley’s Restaurant and Irish Pub has been part of the borough's makeover, with a distillery and new retailers opening in spaces formerly occupied by Coakley's. The owners of the property have been looking for a brewpub restaurant to fill out the space.
Joan Milner is the owner of Zanelli's, an Italian restaurant that opened six months ago across the street.
She believes reviving the theater and filling up the rest of the Coakley's property will attract other real estate investment in New Cumberland.
"I think it's a really good time now," she said. "The (revitalization) committee has really good ideas and they are the type of people that will implement them."