UPDATE: According to city officials, plans for the amphitheater and digital billboard site no longer include the use of the World Trade Center “trees.”
WEST CHESTER (July 19, 2019) –Should an outdoor amphitheater including three large electronic billboards and steel columns from the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center mark the gateway to the City of Coatesville?
That question will be the subject of a public meeting organized by state Senator Andy Dinniman and state Representative Dan Williams this Wednesday, July 24 at 7 p.m. at the New Life in Christ Fellowship Church located at 1 South 5th Avenue in Coatesville.
Dinniman said he and Williams called the meeting upon learning of plans to potentially turn Gateway Park, located at the southwestern corner of Business Route 30/Lincoln Highway and Route 82/South First Avenue, into an open-air amphitheater framed by remnants from the 9/11 attack and with three large digital billboards that back up to the intersection.
“This is the gateway to the City of Coatesville and will have direct bearing on the city’s revitalization,” Dinniman said. “However, you feel about digital billboards being coupled with artifacts from the 9/11 attacks, residents deserve to know what is going on. After all, this involves public space, taxpayer dollars, and sacred remnants from one of the most formative days in our nation’s history. The people of Coatesville ought to know what is going on, they ought to have a say, and they ought to be heard.”
“Gateway Park is the first thing many see on their way into Coatesville,” said Williams. “As we redevelop the city, we must consider input from residents of the community. These conversations provide a simple structure for thoughtful exchanges with people who have differing views and often provide the best ideas and solutions.”
In 2017, the City of Coatesville filed a petition in Chester County Orphans Court to lift deed restrictions on 1.1-acre Gateway Park – land that was originally acquired from Bethlehem Steel in 2000 for open space recreation – to use it as an “open-air amphitheater together with additional site improvements including a digital monument display communication device and Veterans’ memorial.”
In that filing, then-city solicitor John Carnes included exhibits that depict the back of the amphitheater as three massive digital billboards – the largest angled toward southbound traffic entering the city on Route 82/South First Avenue and two additional billboards each angled toward east and west-bound traffic on Business Route 30/Lincoln Highway.
The petition was granted by the Chester County Court of Common Pleas in December 2017. While the City of Coatesville may have published legal notices, there appears to have been no outreach to the public, community organizations, or nearby stakeholders like the Graystone Society, Stewart Huston Charitable Trust, and the National Iron and Steel Heritage Museum.
According to a lease agreement filed with the petition, the city planned to lease the land for the digital billboards to Coatesville Monument Outdoor, LLC, apparently a subsidiary of digital billboard giant, Catalyst Experiential, LLC. Under the included rent schedule, the city stands to make $40,000 or more a year in rental payments for the first 25 years. In year 26 and beyond, rental payments revert to $10 a month. It is unclear if this lease agreement was signed.
In addition, the renderings include the use of multiple steel columns or “trees” recovered from Ground Zero at the World Trade Center. The trees were made in Coatesville and belong to the National Iron and Steel Heritage Museum. They are part of the museum’s collection of 28 pieces of steel from Ground Zero – the largest known in existence – that it plans to incorporate into and display as part of a major expansion project.
The steel was fabricated at Lukens in Coatesville in 1968-69 and used in the construction of the World Trade Center in 1969-70. Since the beams had to be able to support incredible loads, Lukens was selected for the project due to its workers’ expertise in producing small-batch specialty steels.
One-hundred and fifty-two trees (also known as “tridents” or “forks”) were made from 304 steel plates at Lukens to frame and support the lobbies and first nine floors of both the North and South Towers. The buildings were completed in 1971 and stood 110 stories tall until September 11, 2001.
In the wake of the horrific 9/11 attacks, the “trees” became an iconic symbol of American strength and resilience standing amidst the charred wreckage of Ground Zero. Through the work of the Graystone Society and Congressman Joe Pitts, the museum managed to obtain its collection of World Trade Center steel, including 10 of the monumental 50-ton trees. The steel was donated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and transported to Coatesville aboard more than two-dozen flatbed trucks in 2010.
Today, one of the trees is on display outside the 120” rolling mill, a historic building that the museum has acquired and plans to use to house and display large-scale museum exhibits. The museum plans for the additional tridents to be re-erected on the museum’s grounds in the exact formation as they stood at the World Trade Center.
James Ziegler, Executive Director of the National Iron and Steel Heritage Museum, said the museum continues to move ahead with its plans, including the trees and other World Trade Center Steel in its possession. In fact, just last year, Dinniman, a longtime supporter of the museum, secured $45,000 in state funding for its expansion project.
“While the planning for erecting the World Trade Center Memorial has been ongoing for many years, the recent transfer of ArcelorMittal Coatesville’s 120” rolling mill buildings brings us closer to its fruition using the steel columns made by Lukens Steel in Coatesville,” He said. “The museum’s remaining columns will join the Steelworkers’ Memorial honoring those steelworkers who lost their lives making steel in Coatesville, currently on display.”
How the city plans to obtain or use those trees, which it does not own, as part of the amphitheater project remains to be seen.
Dinniman said he and Williams called the meeting to gather information and get public input on the proposal.
“This all appears to have been done very quietly and many questions remain. It only makes sense to bring everyone together to get to the bottom of it. Are these plans going forward? Who approved them and what comes next?” Dinniman said. “This is a gateway to Coatesville and it seems like any development there should connect meaningfully with the city, its heritage, and its people.”