Stimulus Going To Capitol Restrooms

WHEELING – The Capitol Music Hall is receiving a stimulus from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, as $396,522 in federal taxpayers’ money is designated for use at the theater.

Mayor Andy McKenzie said the city will use this funding – granted to Wheeling as additional Community Development Block Grant money for 2009-10 upon President Obama’s signing of the $787 billion stimulus package – to renovate the Capitol so the venue’s restrooms can comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Noting that the full City Council will need to vote on the plan to use CDBG funding for the Capitol, McKenzie said the federal stimulus money must be used for a “shovel-ready” or “hammer-ready project.”

“This is an example of how these stimulus dollars should be used because this will create an immediate impact. … It (money) will put people to work and directly benefit our community,” the mayor said.

McKenzie said the $396,522 will be used to “reconfigure the entry into the theater.”

“We are going to be physically moving the restrooms, and installing many other amenities. … Men will no longer have to go downstairs to use the restroom,” he added.

In February, Frank O’Brien, executive director of the Wheeling-Ohio County Convention and Visitors Bureau, announced that his organization will use $615,000 in hotel/motel tax money to purchase the the Capitol from LiveNation. O’Brien said he expects to close on the deal with the Beverly Hills, Calif.-based entertainment company on April 3. Initially, the Ohio Valley Area Development Corp. – the city of Wheeling’s economic development branch – will take the title of the property.

O’Brien said he and officials with the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corp., Regional Economic Development Partnership and the city of Wheeling are in the process of creating a new nonprofit entity that will accept the deed once it is established.

McKenzie and O’Brien said renovations on the theater will begin as soon as the deal is closed. In addition to the restroom construction, officials need to complete some immediate repairs to address health and safety code issues. This work will require the installation of new exit and emergency lighting; the construction of a new fire escape tower; and the installation of a sprinkler system.

A feasibility study conducted by Washington, D.C.-based Economics Research Associates shows the 1928 theater likely will operate at a loss of about $73,000 per year. But the same study predicts the re-opening of the Capitol will help generate a $5.5 million annual economic stimulus for the Wheeling area, while the plan also anticipates the creation of 65 new jobs with an estimated annual payroll of $1.3 million and additional tax revenues of about $174,000.

But all of this will require a large community commitment, as McKenzie has said it will take $7 million to $8 million to completely renovate the Capitol over several years.

McKenzie and O’Brien know the project is considerable, but they believe the benefits far outweigh the expenses.

“The response we have received since our announcement has been overwhelmingly positive. The community is very excited about what bringing the Capitol back means for Wheeling,” the mayor said, noting he believes his fellow council members will eagerly support using the CDBG money for the ADA work.

Not including the money designated for the Capitol, Wheeling has more than $1.5 million available for additional CDBG projects. Currently, city officials are considering how best to spend the money.

“This is part of a greater renovation project for all of downtown Wheeling,” McKenzie said.

O’Brien also said that LiveNation is in the process of vacating the Capitol before the April 3 closing date.

“They have been moving their equipment out of the building this week,” O’Brien said, noting the Clear Channel Wheeling radio stations are under contract to remain located in the Capitol until at least 2010.

“We would like to keep them there because it is a natural fit,” he said of the stations.