1984 was a transitional year in my career. For 7 years, we owned and operated the most successful theatre (Billboard #1) in the country – the Stanley Theatre (now Benedum Center). I always referred to it as “the people’s theatre.” While Heinz Hall was praised for their latest production of “Don Giovanni” that performed for a “cultured” black-tie crowd, we were welcoming the DVE listening, jeans/t-shirt wearing, music enthusiast to drink a beer and listen to their favorite rock act. We, of course, also won the award for “Bringing Broadway Back to
There was a new concept in concert venues at that time – the outdoor amphitheatre. This type of venue was traditionally used for symphony orchestras or perhaps country music. The Civic Arena was originally built with the retractable roof for the CLO, but it really never caught on. I always thought that
So, when the
In the meantime, I was scanning the Sunday adds for land in the outskirts of
The first plot of land that I bought was in
Around 1984-1985, I saw an ad one day for 1000 acres in Burgettstown. A guy named John Oliver was the seller. The Oliver name is notable in
We landed the helicopter and moved over this shack that was his office. He had about 3 engineers working in the office. He explained what I wanted to do and they all were really excited. “When do you want to do this?” Ray asked. “I’d like to have the first show in June” I responded. I immediately went to work on the planning stages. I remember calling Bruce Springsteen’s technical director and asked him to come and review my plans. He came as a technical advisor, and he really liked the idea. One day, I got a call from the excavator. He said, “hey Pat, I have a guy from the DEP who says that I have to stop the job.” “What do you mean you’re on the job? Ray didn’t tell me that he was digging. You’ll have to stop the job until we get the permit.” I called Ray who started swearing up and down – “what do you mean you stopped the job! Everyone who works at that township works for me in the coal yard. You tell them to start digging.” I went to Ray and insisted that we were going to need a permit. Together, we went to the township building to see what still needed to be done. Well, there were multiple problems that Ray had previously told me that we did not need to worry about. I guess that times had changed from the era that old Ray knew. The woman from the township explained, “your land is not zoned properly. You didn’t submit a plan.” I pulled Ray aside from the window and said, “Ray, we had the engineers? We were working on the plans.” “The hell with them! We don’t need any plans” Ray proclaimed. She continued, “You’re going to need traffic studies.” It was a real eye opener, and I no longer think that Ray was enjoying the inconvenience of doing business with our local government.
Times were getting tough for Ray. The price of coal started to go down. It was previously at an all time high. As business worsened, he seemed to lose interest in the project. We had a falling out, and I abandoned those plans. Though, I am happy to say that years later Ray actually did get into the business. He converted his car dealership near Burgettstown into a small concert venue. His son, who is named Ray, now operates the Pepsi Roadhouse on that spot. I do remember Ray telling me during the helicopter ride that he had a college aged son that was interested in the music business.
One day I got a call from Eddie Lewis. I had never met him before, but Eddie was into big time building and development. He and some partners operating out of
So, I worked with a real estate agent named Chris Stover. He helped me to search for land in Cranberry, and we quickly found about 300 acres for sale located near 228 and 19. After buying some additional land in order to get access to 228, I had attained about 500 acres of land in
But, I still needed to get approval. Someone told me that nothing gets done in Cranberry unless you know Rocko Viola. Rocko was an attorney who owned a shopping center in that area. I called Rocko and explained what I was trying to do, and soon after our conversation I was sitting in his office drinking wine with him and reviewing my plans. “Yep, I like this. This is real good. I’ll get this through for you – no problem,” he said. He motioned to his secretary, “Get me Ed Vogel on the phone.” Ed Vogel is in the garbage business. He was one of the
Rocko picked up the phone, “Hey, Rocko here. I got a guy here who wants to do some building in the area. Hey lets meet tomorrow. We’ll all meet at my house.”
The next day I met Ed Vogel at Rocko’s house. Ed seemed kind of interested in the idea. He said, “Are you going to do country acts”? ”Oh yeah, I do country,” I responded. “I go to that place in
A few days later Rocco called me and said, “Hey, they don’t see anything wrong with your plans. Ed thinks they are going to go along with it but you gotta go to the township meeting and formally present the plans. I’ll go with you.”
The meeting was at the
There were three other people in the room sitting in the audience and the three supervisors and a secretary were sitting at a table in front of any audience. They brought the meeting to order and discussed previous meeting business, then they asked if there was any new business. This was the time for any of us who wanted to discuss their plans. One guy got up and wanted to build a doghouse. “Yeah, no problem just go ahead and do that,” one of the supervisors said with a wink and a shake of his head. Another guy wanted to build a shed to smoke ham, and another person wanted to build a backporch enclosure. They were approved on the spot. “Don’t worry about it just don’t go to near your neighbor’s property. You’re on that old farm road back there. Your closest neighbor is about a half a mile or so isn’t he?” I thought any minute that Andy of Mayberry was going to walk in with Opie.
Now it was my turn. Rocco and I stood up and Rocco said, “Gentlemen”, as he walks up to the supervisors, “we have some plans here that we would like to discuss.” He motions for me to follow him up to the table. “This is Mr. DiCesare and he is planning to build this amphitheatre here to play some shows”. I didn’t feel too confident that Rocco knew exactly what I wanted to build so I took over and talked for a few minutes explaining what I thought was already a done deal. After all, Rocco told me that Ed showed it to the other two supervisors and they didn’t have any objections.
The supervisor who was the backhoe operator said without looking up at us, “You need to submit this to the planning commission first for their recommendation. After we get their decision, then we will look at the plans again and vote on them. Then you will submit them to us. Come back in a few weeks”. I thought to myself, “This isn’t going to be easy or a slam dunk.” Something didn’t seem right. Those people before me with the doghouse didn’t have to see anyone first. They got a “go ahead and do it” treatment. That doesn’t seem to be the case with me.
I came back to present my plans to the planning commission and the place was jam packed with opposition to my pans. It was a total attack on me. I was shocked. Rocco and I let my engineer, Jim Shuty, do the talking. I could see that the audience was clearly against my amphitheatre idea and they had let the supervisors know it by calling them at their homes. Consequently the supervisors put the pressure on the planning commission not to approve my plan. They kept asking for more information every time I attended a meeting. They seemed to be stalling.
In the meantime, Rocco backed out. I think he sensed it wasn’t going to pass and that the public was clearly against it. He probably considered it as bad publicity. I don’t blame him. He had to think of his supermarket. These people were his customers.
I had received a few letters from some people in the area - some good, others telling me what I could do with myself. One of the encouraging letters was from this guy Bob who along with Ralph Minetti had a real estate brokerage office on route 19 North in Cranberry. They were pro growth and thought the amphitheatre was a great idea and that my location was perfect. They invited me to stop by any time and meet with them, which I eventually did. They suggested that I get a good attorney to represent me. So, I turned to attorney Tom King who was an up and coming lawyer in
The next meeting we had to attend was the supervisors meeting. The planning commission had to submit their opinion to the supervisors. Since we were willing to do everything the planning commission, the supervisors had to consider what action they would take at this meeting. Our team showed up a few minutes before the start of the meeting at 7pm. When we got there, we were shocked. The parking lot was full and cars were still coming in. We couldn’t even get into the township building. There was huge crowd with signs saying “Down with DiCesare,” “Say No to The Amphitheatre,” and “No To Rock and Roll.”. Outside the front entry they had a large container with a sign that read, “Make your donation here to hire attorney to fight him”. We waited outside for about fifteen minutes. Then we heard someone yell out, “They’re moving the meeting to the high school gym. There are too many people. Everybody get back in your cars and drive to the gym”
Normally only a handful of people attended these meetings. Not that day though. This schoolhouse was so packed that people who couldn’t get in were standing outside sticking their heads inside the windows to get a look. It was a very hot summer night with no air conditioning. Tom King looked at me and said, “This reminds me of The Scopes Trial.” We laughed, but the whole situation felt very ominous.
Tom King took over for our side at the meeting. He and Jim Shuty did a fine job considering the three supervisors had clearly made their decision in advance of any meeting. They were siding with the crowd no matter what we were presenting. They didn’t voice a decision. They asked for more information. Things like, “We need you to give us a traffic study”. That would take at least 30-60 days and cost $50,000.
Sixty days later we showed up for another large, well attended meeting. This was beginning to be a source of entertainment for the locals. They couldn’t wait to come to our meetings. At this meeting they reviewed our plans and said, “We need our engineers to review these plans. That will take some time. We will get back to you after that. In the meantime, we need you to do a sound study. We want to know the direction of the sound and how many decibels of sound there will be to the first house.”
The township could make all the accusations that they could think of, and I had the burden of proof. They claimed, “It will make too much noise, cause too much traffic, bring drugs to all the kids in
Jerry Kossar was the head of the “Concerned Citizens for Planned Development,” the major opposition to my amphitheatre. I decided that since he was the ring leader that I should meet with him. I looked his number up in the phone book. I called him and set up a meeting at his home the next night. We met at his kitchen table. I laid my drawings on his table and showed him the plans. I asked, “Jerry, what’s so bad about this? The most I could possibly do is about 40 concerts a summer, I’ll be closed for 320 days of the year. Nobody will be around to bother you. Think of the alternative. If someone would do a housing development, you would have all those people and cars in front of your house everyday of the year. Isn’t this better for you”?
He said as he pointed his finger and waved his arm toward the large window showing the grassy knoll across the road, “I moved here because I saw the deer, the squirrels. I heard the birds singing. I wanted peace and tranquility, and now you want to take it away. You want to destroy everything I love about this place.” I said, “Jerry, I have 500 acres. The amphitheatre will be located in the center of the property. You will not see the amphitheatre or the parking area”. “All you’re going to have are rock concerts – the Devil’s music. You’ll bring drugs and crime to the area”, he said. No matter what I said, he wasn’t accepting and was opposed. After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and over a year of time I eventually got turned down completely for the amphitheatre.
I went back to Chris Stover, who was still my land guy. His father-in-law, Jack, had some land for sale in
One of the township supervisors had a unique business. On the left side of the building he rebuilt car radiators. On the right side he smoked meat. Not wanting to go into the side that soaked radiators in acid, I walked into the right side of the building and asked for the supervisor. I introduced myself and told him why I wanted to see him.
“Yeah, I heard all about you. You’re that guy from
“Look, I have my amphitheatre plans with me,” I said as I laid my plans on the top of his meat case. “Do you think I will have a chance to get an approval here in
It was just like
One day in early 1989, I got a call from a real estate agent who asked if he could meet me at my office. He didn’t say what the meeting was going to be about except that I would be very interested in hearing what he had to say. The next day, he came in to my office with a set of building plans rolled up in the typical fashion. As he shook my hand and introduced himself, he said, “I’m here representing Brian Becker of Pace Concerts from
The next day, I got a call from Brian Becker. His father owned Pace Concerts. He said, “I know you have been trying to build an amphitheatre. We located a place, and we have the approval.” For some reason I believed him. He said,” I don’t think the market can support two large amphitheatres. If you drop your plans for your amphitheatre, we’re willing to make this work nicely for DiCesare-Engler too. We are prepared to let DiCesare-Engler do all of the booking, and to pay you for each customer that walks through the door. We’re not asking for any money. You can only make money from the very first person who buys a ticket.” Surprisingly, I kind of liked the sounds of this. I thought to myself, “I’m never going to get an approval for an amphitheatre the way I’m going.” Also, we were making money without risking anything. But, I said, “Brian let me get back to you." I knew that they beat me to it. I also knew that it was a really good deal for us. After I did the paper work I was very pleased. After all of the money that I thrown away in Cranberry trying to plead my case, I knew the value of getting paid for something that didn’t require any financial fight. We could make a lot of money without any cost. Plus, we still had a lot going for us in the city. At that time we either owned or exclusively operated the IC Light Amphitheatre (Chevrolet Amphitheatre), AJ Palumbo Center, the Syria Mosque, and the Bud Light Amphitheatre in Wilkes-Barre (Yes, I was successful at getting a few amphitheatres built in my time). And, of course we still had our choice of shows for the Civic Arena and
How did they beat me to it? I think that the difference was that they went to the politicians first. They got to the local, county, and state politicians on their side. Looking back, I guess that it didn’t seem to be as invasive of an idea to the locals in that area as it was in
In the meantime,
I had Jim Shuty submit a housing development plan and again we got turned down. This time, I decided to take action and took both Adams and
It’s been 20 years since I gave up on the amphitheatre. I spent 5 years of my career and over a half of a million dollars planning an amphitheatre that was never built. It worked out very well financially thanks to the Adams Ridge development and the deal that Pace made with us. But, I still don’t feel good about the situation. It’s like I made the World Series, but lost game 7. Now, when I am in Cranberry I have a hard time even remembering its rural charm amongst the backdrop of all the commercial development. I suppose that the children of my opposition must not have shared the same vision of their community that their parents did.
It almost seems like it would be too convenient for