A mortgage-burning is a celebration you don’t see much these days.
But in Wheeling, a small group of people gathered around a document, lit it on fire and watched it burn.
The Capitol Theatre is now owned—free and clear—by the Wheeling Convention and Visitors Bureau.
But back when they saved it from the wrecking ball, it was considered a risky venture.
Not everyone embraced the idea of the CVB buying the theatre.
“There were those out there who thought it wasn’t a very smart thing to do and that potentially it could be a white elephant,” recalled Frank O’Brien,
CVB executive director.He says out-of-towners actually paid for it.
He explained that the CVB gets its funds from the hotel-motel tax.
So out-of-town visitors and gas and oil workers paid the bed tax that in turn paid the mortgage.
But it was still a gamble.
The first priority was to fix the fire code violations.
They fixed the rusty fire escape.
“With a fire escape you can actually see from space, that’s how intense and strong it is!” said O’Brien.
They gratefully accepted donations from individuals and foundations. They had volunteer days. People flocked in to clean and paint. They replaced the seats, the stage curtain, carpeting, wall treatments, the sound system projector, even the roof.
The Wheeling Symphony quickly returned to the venue they had long called their home.
“The couple years that we were down at John Marshall and at Wesbanco Arena, although we were treated well in those facilities, it felt like we were just not at home,” said Bruce Wheeler, symphony executive director.
The theatre was owned by corporations for years, apparently without the profits being plowed back in.
The CVB is a non-profit, taking good care of what they know is a jewel.
“The community now owns and controls this theatre, and without their permission, nobody can take it away again,” said Denny Magruder, executive director of the Greater Wheeling Soorts & Entertainment Authority.
“Now and forever, the community owns the theater,” said O’Brien.
Presidents and preachers, actors and dancers, symphonies and broadway troupes have graced this stage
“If you saw the movie Field of Dreams, they said if you build it, they will come,” Magruder concluded. “The CVB said if we build it, they will come. And they have.”A feasibility study told them that if they had 50,000 people a year coming to the theatre, that would bring $3 million a year to the City of Wheeling.
They are proud to note they’ve exceeded that, bringing $3 million to $5 million a year into the community.