PHOENIXVILLE >> A community movement to bring back the Phoenixville mural — a symbol of the borough’s renaissance — is growing by the day.
More than 3,000 people are supporting a goal to convince property owners to allow the image to reappear, this time in digital form.
Barbara Cohen, a member of the Phoenixville Cultural Coalition, stood before borough council Tuesday night to seek support for the effort to resurrect the Phoenixville mural at Bridge and Main streets and retain Renaissance Park.
Through signature drives at the Dogwood Festival and on primary election day and in groups including the Jaycees, students in the Phoenixville Area School District and at Renaissance Academy, the effort has reached nearly 3,000 signatures on a petition.
“We have a moral commitment to the community,” Cohen told council.
The goal is to recreate on digital wallpaper the original 40-foot-by 80-foot mural, which depicted the borough’s history as a steel town.
However, there is a road block to getting there.
The Phoenixville Area Economic Development Corp. owns the empty plot of land where Renaissance Park currently sits and isn’t interested in recreating the mural, Cohen said. Instead it’s trying to sell the plot. If that happens, a new building could be built on the space with no hope for the mural’s return.
Kurt Kunsch, president of the Phoenixville Area Economic Development Corp. said the plan is to keep Renaissance Park as open space and there are some “cool ideas for downtown” in the pipeline.
“We’re not selling the park,” he reiterated in a voice message. “That’s not happening. We’re keeping it as open space and looking at some pretty great ideas from pretty creative minds. It would create quite a buzz both regionally and nationally downtown in Phoenixville.”
Attempts to reach Kunsch for more information were unsuccessful by press time Thursday.
The original mural painted in 1994 wasn’t created on the exterior wall of the building that houses Steel City coffeehouse. Rather it was painted on the remaining interior wall of a building that was destroyed in a fire in 1971 on the now empty lot, Cohen said.
In 1992, the Phoenixville Chamber of Commerce, of which Cohen then served as director, spearheaded a campaign to sell inscribed bricks in order to purchase the lot for the Phoenixville Area Economic Development Corp. for $140,000. About half of that money came from the brick campaign for Renaissance Park. The Phoenixville Area Economic Development Corporation then obtained an easement for the interior wall and purchased the empty lot in 1993, according to Cohen.
The mural stood for 21 years until last fall it was announced the interior wall was crumbling and needed to be taken down for safety reasons. It has since been structurally made sound and repaired, Cohen said.
“I anticipated (the Phoenixville Area Economic Development Corp.) would replace the mural with a digital wallpaper based on my photography from 1994. That has not occurred,” she said. “I had volunteered to obtain the funding needed. This past spring I had obtained pledges from various public and private donors to take care of bringing back the mural as a digital wallpaper.”
In her remarks to council Tuesday night, Cohen said it would lend a lot of weight if council were to back the movement.
“As the person who made this happen in 1994, we can bring it back as a digital wallpaper,” she said. “I wanted to make all of you aware this evening of the huge community support that we have garnered for bringing back the mural at the corner of Bridge and Main street. It’s been a focal point of Phoenixville’s renaissance.”
Others including Phoenixville Area High School Student Chris Bean and resident Marilyn Michalski expressed their support before council calling the mural a piece of the borough’s history. Michalski said nearly 100 percent of 200 people she’s collected signatures from have told her how much they miss the mural and want to help see it return. Murals, she said, like the ones found in Philadelphia, provide a fantastic educational opportunity for young people.
For its part, council members voiced their support of the movement but wouldn’t draft a resolution officially under the advice of Borough Manager Jean Krack.
“Figure out the ownership of the property first,” he said. “Then get behind and support the efforts to move forward with the mural. Baby steps, one step at a time.”