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Manchin, Capito Seek $700,000 To Update Capitol Theatre in Wheeling

File Photo Wheeling city officials want to create an entertainment endowment fund to help entice bigger acts to venues like the Capitol Theatre.

WHEELING — Wheeling Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Frank O’Brien knows that both U.S. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin consider Wheeling’s Capitol Theatre an important part of the region. Now he and the theatre hope that leads to a six-figure boost to make some integral improvements to the building.

Both senators from West Virginia — the Republican Capito and Democrat Manchin — have placed on their list for “community project” funding $700,000 for improvements to the Capitol Theatre. Formerly called earmarks, community project funding allows members of Congress to request direct funding for projects benefiting communities they represent.

If the Capitol Theatre receives that $700,000, O’Brien said the lion’s share of that money would go to replacing the fly system in the theatre — the weights, counterweights and pulleys that control the different sets that shows use.

“(The current system) is original to the building,” O’Brien said.

“It’s 1928 technology. It’s in dire need of replacement, primarily for the quality of the shows we present. Ultimately, it could be a safety issue, too.

“We will try to get the best equipment we can get so it will be another 80-year term,” he added.

O’Brien said the age of the current fly system has limited the Capitol Theatre in the shows it can host and also in some of the sets that can be used in the shows it does bring in. Modern sets are heavier than they have been in the past, he said.

Some touring shows can’t use the Capitol Theatre because the fly system can bear the weight of none of their sets. Some shows can’t use the full catalog of sets that they would use at other venues for the same reason.

Some of the money also would go to remediation work on the theatre’s foundation and on the outside of the building.

“This is an icon,” O’Brien said. “If we can keep it functional and contributing to the economy, I really see it as a driver.”

O’Brien said that if 50,000 people attend shows at the Capitol Theatre over the course of one year, the direct spending by those people in the community is between $3 million and $5 million, including restaurants, gas and retail.

That both Capito and Manchin made it a point to add the theatre to their respective community project lists shows, in O’Brien’s mind, how important they both feel the Capitol Theatre is to the area.

“I think it reaffirms our belief,” O’Brien said. “We do believe that Sens. Manchin and Capito see the role and significance of the historic Capitol Theatre not only to Wheeling and the Northern Panhandle, but the entire state. It has improved the quality of life for people for generations.”

Now O’Brien and the rest of his staff will wait to see whether the theatre makes the cut for funding. O’Brien said he is hopeful.

“I’m very hopeful and I’m also proud of the fact that both senators have some pretty impressive positions in Congress,” he said.

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