WHEELING - Fred Kirr's first visit to the Capitol Music Hall on Friday involved keeping people from entering the historic venue's balcony.
But he hopes his next visit will be to witness a performance by country music star and Glen Dale native Brad Paisley - a wish that just may come true if all goes as planned.
Kirr, a WesBanco Arena employee, worked the hall during an open house to celebrate the theater's purchase by the Wheeling-Ohio County Convention and Visitors Bureau for $615,000.
The CVB received a $1.5 million loan from Progressive bank, a portion of which will help buy the structure, located at 1015 Main St. in downtown Wheeling.
The CVB plans to re-open the hall in mid-September with a multi-day celebration featuring a variety of acts, including the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra, which stopped using the theater when 23 fire safety code violations were reported by city fire inspectors. The orchestra has since played at John Marshall High School's performing arts center.
Live Nation, the former owner, closed the hall in May 2007. And for the past three years - even before its official closure - the CVB and other Wheeling organizations worked on a plan to get the venue running again, a move they believe will help revitalize the city.
During the open house, a letter from Paisley and his father, Doug Paisley, was read to the crowd of about 100 people. In the note, the Paisleys said, ''We'll be back - save us a date.''
Doug Paisley could not be reached at press time for additional comment.
But before any acts can hit the stage, the CVB plans to resolve the fire safety issues, which will include the installation of a new sprinkler system over the seating area.
Frank O'Brien, CVB executive director, said the loan will be paid off over time with hotel/motel tax funding, which is the organization's main revenue source for marketing the county's tourism offerings. Other renovations will be ongoing after the venue re-opens, he said.
O'Brien noted afterward that during the past three years he's saved $200,000 from the CVB coffers for the Capitol effort. The CVB also is seeking donations for the ''Capitol Theatre Preservation Trust'' that is being handled by the Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley, which donated $5,000 to the cause. Minus the cost of purchasing the building, the CVB now has about $1 million to get started in May.
A Web site, www.capitoltheatrewheeling.com, has been established to field donations.
''Love it and take care of it. It's ours now and forever,'' said Doc Williams, one of the venue's original Jamboree USA country music stars, as he handed over the theater's keys to Hydie Friend, executive director of the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corp.
The Wheeling Municipal Auditorium Board is charged with managing the theater in addition to WesBanco Arena.
''We hope to break even - that's all we're trying to do,'' O'Brien said, noting eventually a nonprofit group will be formed to take over the hall.
Moundsville residents Cathy and Kevin Riggle said they both had the day off and wanted to participate in the open house. They noted the venue had too much history for it to stay closed, and they were happy the CVB had purchased it.
''I would come even if it's just local entertainment,'' Cathy Riggle said. ''It would be great to see a big star here.''
She noted it was several years ago that she attended a performance by country group Sawyer Brown at the Capitol.
''It's very beautiful,'' Kevin Riggle added.
Kirr also was impressed with the theater's look.
''I'm still taking it all in,'' he said while standing at the foot of a staircase that led to the balcony.
During a couple of the last performances held at the hall, Live Nation had Wheeling firefighters patrol the venue and a fire engine remained parked on Main Street outside the building. Friend noted because organizers knew the venue would not be full of people on Friday, stationed firefighters were not deemed necessary. O'Brien noted they decided to keep the balcony closed during the open house for fire safety reasons.