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Capitol Theatre celebrates year of change

February 25, 2014
By REBECCA OLSAVSKY - For?The Times Leader , Times Leader

WHEELING - Over the years, many people have stepped foot on the Capitol Theatre's stage.

President George W. Bush, Johnny Cash, AC/DC, Willie Nelson, and the Abby Lee Dance Company are some of those well-known guests. The renowned stage is also the long-term home of the Wheeling Symphony.

With upgrades completed in September, the Capitol Theatre's other interior features now deserve equal admiration, according to Frank O'Brien, director of Wheeling/Ohio County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

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Frank O’Brien, executive director of the Wheeling-Ohio County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said there were many interior upgrades to the Capitol Theatre during 2013. Patrons can enjoy new carpeting, acoustic wall treatments, a stage curtain, and projection and screen equipment.

"The Capitol Theatre has been a part of the Wheeling area's past, its present, and it will be part of its future," O'Brien said. "The theater represents a positive economic generator."

When the Wheeling-Ohio County Convention and Visitors Bureau purchased the property in 2009, the theater faced 23 public safety violations, including an inadequate fire escape and smoke system. For the first time in 80 years, the Capitol Theatre now meets all public safety regulations.

Once the CVB made changes to bring everything up to code, customer experience upgrades became the focus.

The nearly $1 million needed to install new seating, carpeting, acoustic wall treatments, stage curtains, LED lighting, and projection and screen equipment, among other features, came primarily from private donations through the Chris Hess Foundation and Gary and Flip West.

Previous capacity for 2,500 people was reduced to 2,200 seats to improve patrons' comfort and leg room. The seating will actually serve as a means of additional fundraising through the "Your Seat in the Spotlight" campaign.

"Hundreds of people are donating $250 per seat to have a brass plate installed on the arm chair commemorating their relationship with the theater," O'Brien said. "The moderate cost to become a piece of Wheeling history so far has been a successful campaign."

Reconfiguring seating capacity also allowed the CVB to bring the theater into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Handicapped-accessible options are available in various sections of the main seating area.

The goal is to host about 90 shows and events per year. Programming includes everything from country to Broadway shows and symphony concerts. Some of this year's planned events include Wheeling Symphony's Vivaldi's "Seasons and Classical Gems" and Broadway at the Capitol's "Women of Ireland." And for the first time since the mid-1980s, the theater will feature movies.

"The 2014 programming schedule is coming together nicely," O'Brien said. "We continue to add shows as frequently as we can."

The CVB eventually would like to host entertainment-event experiences at the theater. As one potential idea, O'Brien described a screening of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" complimented with mimosas and hair stylists available to pamper patrons. Events similar to "Inside the Actor's Studio" are another possible option.

With an estimated 57,000 people attending the Capitol Theatre's shows and events in 2013, the venue represents a major stimulus for the local economy.

"Surveys indicated nearly 80 percent of all theater patrons spend money at area restaurants, motels and at other local businesses because of attending a show at the theater," O'Brien said. "The Capitol Theatre is a positive component in the overall efforts to revitalize downtown Wheeling. Quality entertainment can work to bring new people and new money to Ohio County."

With its original intent of bringing a culture of entertainment to local residents, O'Brien believes the Capitol Theatre's sustained authenticity will continue to charm patrons.

"The theater provides a venue for artistic expression. We have the real thing," O'Brien said. "It's easy to market the real thing."



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