By Steve Novotney
When the Wheeling Nailers face off against Orlando this evening at Wesbanco Arena, a couple of thousand seats will be filled with members of a most faithful fan base, teenagers out for something to do and by members of the media.
“Spike,” the hockey team’s mascot, and the Wesbanco Bank Beaver will circle the venue more than a few times, the video timeouts will highlight upcoming promotions and ticket specials, AND tonight’s game will be the first “Flat Screen Friday Giveaway.”
One lucky fan will walk away with a 32-inch flat screen TV.
Fans can purchase jerseys and sweatshirts and 50-50 chances and “Pucks to Chuck” for charity while inside the venue, and the concessions stands offer the usual fare and draft beer.
It’s a hockey night in Wheeling!
Wesbanco Arena also features Generations Restaurant that operates in the “club room” located on the east side of the building. Owner Mike Duplaga entered into an agreement with the arena’s management in 2013, and he has invested thousands of dollars to improve the area for his second year. Generations is open for each of the Nailers’ 36 home games and also operates during several other events.
“It took a little while, but the fans have found us,” Duplaga said. “We’re doing well, and I can tell the upgrades we’ve made have made a nice difference. We installed four new flat screens, dressed it up, and made some improvements in the kitchen area, too.
“The Nailers games are good for us, but we usually do better during some of the other events here at the arena,” he said. “We were really crowded during the Doobie Brothers concert in March, and the Toughman Competition was great for us.”
A three-stage, $5.5 million renovation project was announced by officials of the Greater Wheeling Sports and Entertainment Authority in October. A new four-panel video scoreboard will be installed in January, and new seats are scheduled for installation in June and July. The final stage involves the construction of a new façade along 14th Street.
Duplaga believes interior upgrades will make important differences for those who attend events hosted by the venue.
“The inside of this building has pretty much looked the same as it did the day it opened when I was in grade school,” he said. “The new scoreboard and the new seats will help with increasing attendance, especially at first. I also believe it will help the management get a lot more events and concerts booked in the future.
“The renderings of the new façade look great, but I would rather see more attention on the inside of the building,” he continued. “I’d like to see more suites be built, and more changes to the overall appearance. I think those kinds of improvements would go further with the people buying the tickets than a new façade would. Maybe that’s just me.”
Duplaga moved from Wheeling when he accepted a sales position in Elkins, W.Va., while working for Ogden Newspapers Inc. in the early 1990s. He, his wife, Alyssa, and their children moved home in 1998 after he decided to purchase property owned by his father along National Road in the Fulton section of Wheeling.
For several decades the Swing Club was located at the base of Wheeling Hill and was a popular spot for live entertainment. Upon his return, Duplaga transformed the location into Generations Restaurant and Pub. The restaurant is located on the bottom level, and banquet and meeting facilities fill the top level.
“We have completed three major renovations in the past 15 years,” he said. “And today we’re doing better than ever before. As long as you can pay the bank, life is good.
“I had no idea how moving home would go, to be honest. I just saw an opportunity in a business I grew up around, and we wanted to return to Wheeling,” Duplaga continued. “I believe in Wheeling. There are things that need to happen, but we’re seeing those things take place.”
As far as his eatery inside Wesbanco Arena, the menu features several items served at the Fulton restaurant, including burgers, the Warsaw Reuben, pizza, wings, hoagies, fried chicken, the chipotle steak wrap, and Generations’ award-winning chili. Duplaga said Generations will remain open as long as management wants him there.
“I believe there are better days ahead for this venue; I really do,” he said. “Now that the (Regional Economic Development Partnership) owns the Nailers, I’ve seen them make a lot of efforts to improve the fan experience. It’s making a difference.
“As long as the people in charge of Wesbanco Arena want us here, I’ll continue improving this area the same way,” Duplaga added. “This business is all about what the customer wants, so that’s what we try to offer them every day there is an event here.”