Last updated: July 05. 2014 2:13PM - 751 Views
By - nwagner@timesleader.com

The stage, as seen from the balcony, at St. Casimir's Church in Pittston has been going through renovations for the past two years.
The stage, as seen from the balcony, at St. Casimir's Church in Pittston has been going through renovations for the past two years.
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She doesn’t mind admitting when she’s wrong. But this is something she still believes in.

One year ago, Gina Malsky and Applause Theater were set to open the Pittston Downtown Arts Center. There was a gala in the works and Act 1 was set for the end of July 2013. Since then, things have been put on hold.

The former St. Casimir’s Church on Church Street in Pittston has been undergoing a transformation for more than two years now in hopes of eventually opening the door to Pittston’s art/dance universe. But, once again, things have come to a standstill.

“I listened to a lot of people and, being a trusting person, I really thought that it had a chance to work,” she said. “The place got robbed, we got sued, you name it. The purpose of the building was supposed to be a community center for the people of Greater Pittston.”

Malsky worked through many problems last year to get the building up to code. She did just that, which included $15,000 handicapped accessible bathrooms. That should have been the end of it, she believed. But as funds for the renovation started to dwindle, Malsky has been forced to use the space for storage, not her intention.

Malsky also owns the Downtown Arts Center on North Franklin Street in Wilkes-Barre, formerly the First United Methodist Church, which wll soon celebrate its seventh anniversary. That building is home to several small renters, from potters to fundraisers for non-profits.

“Don’t duplicate; find your own identity. I say that over and over,” she said.

Take just one step into the former St. Casimir’s Church in Pittston and it’s easy to understand why Malsky continues to hold the passion she does for it. Well, she has to, she said.

She purchased the building just two days after the September 2011 flood ripped away her house in West Pittston. While she was figuring out what to do with her water-laden home, she was told her offer for the former church had been accepted.

Things were going smoothly with Applause Theater, and then the standstill. Money is now running thin and Applause Theater has moved on.

“Unfortunately, it was a bad marriage. It was (a) fault of mine and theirs,” she said. “I’ll take as much responsibility. We rushed into it an,d with an old church, we ran into every possible obstacle we could have.

“After West Pittston got flooded, there was so much talk about working the two towns together,” she said. “This was the facility that I thought could do that. I was wrong. This was going to connect West Pittston and Pittston. I thought it was something that could work hand in hand. Maybe I was naive and my dreams were just a little too big.”

Malsky is just waiting on one thing — more cash flow. She knows the theater won’t bring in mega bucks, but will be more like a non-profit. So she’s waiting on a phone call for someone to add their name in front of Downtown Arts Center. She explained it as a “Your Name Here” Downtown Arts Center.

“I’ve been trying to find somebody to get a name on the building because the sad part about it is that this is not a business that will generate a lot of income,” she said. “It’s only going to better the city. We’re drowning before we even open but we have no option but to open. We really need a business, or family, not to purchase the building, but to support it.”

A brand new stage has already taken the place of the church altar. New safety and emergency procedures are in place. But before the former church opens, there is still a lot of work to do.

The building is beautiful as the cathedral ceilings offer views of hand-painted angels, of which Malsky said people still ask if they are there. The ceilings highlight the exquisite architecture to the building. No pews remain, but the memories of many Greater Pittstonians still live on inside the church.

“Deep down, I think this is still going to work,” Malsky said.

For the time being, the building is just a beautiful storage space, awaiting for Act 1 to take off. Malsky remains hopeful and admits she’s thought about pulling the plug. But not just yet.

“It doesn’t have to be a theatre,” she said. “It was a theatre because Applause started it. I would love to see someone have a great wedding in here and remember it the rest of their lives.”

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