How Wheeling Saved the Capitol Theatre

With a bustling schedule of Broadway shows, live music, and symphonic performances, it’s hard to imagine a time when the Capitol Theatre wasn’t an anchor in Downtown Wheeling. But back in 2007, the future of the Capitol Theatre was uncertain.

After being acquired by Clear Channel and later, Live Nation, it was determined that the best path forward for the company’s bottom line was to close the Capitol and put it on the market. Thankfully, a group of community-minded leaders came together and devised a plan to purchase, restore, and reopen the iconic 2,400-seat theatre. This effort was led by the Wheeling Convention and Visitors Beauru, along with Wheeling Heritage and the City of Wheeling’s Sports and Entertainment Authority.

This type of undertaking was novel for a CVB, according to Frank O’Brien, Executive Director of the Wheeling-Ohio County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Under normal circumstances, a CVB doesn’t use marketing dollars to purchase infrastructure and would most likely never consider owning a potential money pit like a historic theatre. But Wheeling stakeholders and community partners are different in coming together to save a Wheeling icon because it was the right thing to do,” says O’Brien.

It was quite a risk at the time, but 14 years later it’s clear that the bold decisions made by these stakeholders continue to benefit the community to this day. “Thanks to the various skill sets of each of the partnering organizations, the 95-year-old theatre was saved and today drives a significant number of people to the downtown business district. The economic impact generated by the Capitol Theatre since 2009 conservatively exceeds $42,000,000,” according to O’Brien. He also noted that more than 56 thousand patrons visit the Capitol Theatre during an average year.

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So, was it worth the investment? If you ask O’Brien, the answer is clear. “In 2019, the Wheeling/Ohio County CVB retired all debt associated with the Capitol Theatre’s purchase making it a free and clear community asset. Now that’s a return on investment each and every one of us in the Ohio Valley community can be proud of.”

In the video below, Denny Magruder, former director of the Capitol Theatre and WesBanco Area, says it best “This community controls the future of this theatre forever.” Watch the full video to learn more about how Wheeling saved the Capitol Theatre.

As National Historic Preservation Month comes to a close, we couldn’t help but look back at this incredible example of community-driven preservation and the positive impact it continues to have on Wheeling nearly a decade and a half later. With several large-scale historic preservation projects currently underway in Downtown Wheeling, it’s exciting to imagine the ripple effect that these investments will have on our community in the years to come.

Alex Panas is the Program Manager for Wheeling Heritage, where she works with artists, small business owners, and community stakeholders to provide technical assistance and create meaningful programs that enhance Wheeling. She also serves as the managing editor for Weelunk. Alex lives in St. Clairsville with her husband where they raise four cats and four spunky backyard chickens.

Wheeling Heritage Media creates a variety of multimedia experiences in order to tell Wheeling’s story, both past and present. Through videos, podcasts, photos, and more, they create content and provide digital access to help more people feel connected and engaged with this vibrant, growing community.