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Alumnus donates former Roadworthy restaurant to West Liberty University

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A longtime benefactor and graduate of West Liberty University donated a former restaurant to the university this week to be used as an event center.

Gary E. West, who is a successful businessman in the Northern Panhandle, donated the building that once house Roadworthy restaurant and its parking lot to WLU to be used as an event center for both university functions and community events. WLU President Robin Capehart said the building will be known as the Gary E. West Event Center.

Capehart described West's donation as a perfect holiday gift for the university, from which West graduated in 1958. Capehart said the property, valued at $1.6 million, is one of the most substantial gifts the university has ever received. And, it's a gift that will be put to good and immediate use.

"As you can see, the building is a beautiful facility that has been carefully maintained and is capable of a number of functions," Capehart said. "As we examined our needs at the university, we quickly identified the fact that in last year alone, the school conducted over 100 receptions, dinners and other similar activities that hosted a considerable number of people. A great number of these events were held in venues that lacked the proper capacity, convenient parking or the ability to provide the appropriate food service. In addition, we often encountered occasions when more than one campus group wished to use a particular facility leaving other organizations without an adequate location to hold its event at the same time."

Roadworthy featured a restaurant and six cabins on 36 acres across Route 88 from the university. It operated for a while before it closed in 2009 after federal authorities learned its previous owner, Bernie Metz, embezzled millions of dollars from the Center Valley Credit Union. Metz pleaded guilty to embezzlement charges in 2010 and was sentenced in 2011 to 108 months in prison by a federal judge.

In April 2012, West purchased the property at an auction for $1.2 million. At the time, West said he was going to work with the university and had dual projects under consideration for the property.

"They will be doing some things and so will we. Right now we don't know what it will be long term, but it is a great piece of property," West said at the time of the auction.

West is maintaining ownership of the cabins and the rest of the acreage.

Capehart said the Gary E. West Event Center will be perfect for groups hoping to host events requiring catering and food service. And because the building housed a full-sized restaurant, the event center will be big enough for larger groups people who need enough space for socializing and seating. That's something the university can't really provide right now, Capehart said.

"We have to Student Union, but to use that, we had to move the students out, which isn't ideal," he said.

Plus, because the building is located off the primary campus grounds, adult beverages may be served at some events. That's something the university hadn't really been comfortable allowing before.

However, Capehart said the university will not be running a full-scale restaurant out of the old Roadworthy.

"I know that there has been some conversation regarding the use of the building for a full-time restaurant. When we examined that possibility, we quickly realized that as an institution of higher education, we are not equipped to undertake such a venture," Capehart said. "We have, however, discussed the possibility of providing some limited measure of food service to the public during special occasions on campus, such as athletic events or performances by our fine arts organizations. Those discussions are ongoing."