Now that the framing for the new façade for Wesbanco Arena is in place, the center’s general manager believes the dream of a modernized public facility is more visual than ever before.
Denny Magruder said the reactions he’s collected from patrons has been 100-percent positive since the Nailers’ home schedule began in October despite the fact that access has been limited during the $4.2 million construction project.
“All I have heard from the people coming into the building during this process has been very positive, especially since the crews put the superstructure in place,” Magruder reported. “I’ve even heard from some of the early critics, and they even have changed their outlooks. That framing has allowed for people to see just how different that new façade is going to make the entire building.
“I think the people who were once apprehensive are now anticipating the completion and the differences it will make,” he said. “There’s no doubt that this project has made it more difficult to get into the arena, but even during those times people have done what they’ve had to do, and they’ve been very understanding about it, and I think that’s because they knew what’s coming.”
The new façade represents the third phase of capital improvements made to the facility. Last year interior seating and the installation of handrails were completed for $1.4 million, and a new, million-dollar scoreboard and video system were placed in December 2014. Both the interior and exterior renovations are funded by the municipal sales tax implemented in October 2013.
“As far as the completion, we are still looking at June 1. That was the target date when they broke ground, and that’s still the date we are staring at for everything to be complete,” said Magruder, the arena’s general manager for nearly 30 years. “They had great weather up through December, and that allowed for a lot of progress to take place. We have a major construction meeting every other week so there’s plenty of communication taking place.
“And as of last week we are right on target for that completion date. The crews are ahead of schedule on a few things, and they are behind a day or two on a couple of things,” he continued. “Everyone is very hopeful that this project will be done by June 1, or very, very close to that date.”
Cattrell Construction completed the interior makeover, and Colaianni Construction is performing the façade work. A new, ground-level lobby will feature a sheltered box office, and a gift shop will operate within, as well.
“Our box office will be on the street level inside the new area, and then people will need to go up steps or use the elevators to get to the arena level,” Magruder explained. “That means our patrons will be able to buy or pick up their tickets inside and out of the rain and the snow like what they have had to do since the arena opened in the late-1970s.
“We will be able to hold functions in that new lobby, which is going to be a large, open space,” he said. “And there also will be a permanent Nailers team shop that will be located in that new lobby area, too. It’s going to make a great difference and add a new feel to the building, and it’s something we are very much looking forward to in the coming months. It’s allowed for a lot of people to dream about the possibilities.”
Wesbanco Arena, formerly known as the Wheeling Civic Center, was constructed in 1975-77 for approximately $10 million, according to Wheeling City Manager Robert Herron. Herron said constructing the same building today would cost between $70-$80 million.
“I believe it’s going to be phenomenal, and while major cities may have bigger buildings, that doesn’t mean they have better facilities than Wesbanco Arena once this new façade is in place,” Magruder insisted. “We have top-of-the-line seats, we have a Cadillac scoreboard and video system, the sound system is brand new, and there’s more concessions than ever before.
“While a lot of cities are taking down their buildings before they are paid for, here in Wheeling what we have done is renovate a building that was dated, and we’re making it new again,” he said. “I applaud this community and its leadership. This building is going to be a very functional way into the future, and all we have to do is maintain it.”
Prior to these upgrades, Wesbanco Arena had not been upgraded for nearly 40 years, and previous ownership of the Wheeling Nailers, Rob and Jim Brooks, moved 10 of the club’s 36 home games to Johnstown, Pa., in hopes of improving attendance. The Brooks brothers sold the Nailers to the Regional Economic Development Partnership and to WAHA in March 2012.
“This project will change the function of the building, too, because the entrance to the facility will now be at ground level. No longer will our visitors have to climb all of those stairs or that ramp to enter into the arena,” Magruder explained. “There will be a public lobby at ground level very similar to what the people enjoy at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
“The project is really coming along very well. It’s really starting to take shape now, and most people are now able to visualize exactly what we are building here,” he added. “It’s going to make the building very visible for people traveling the interstate and here in the downtown. I believe it’s going to make a dramatic difference; I really do.”
(Photos by Steve Novotney)