By Casey Junkins | June 28, 2015 | The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register
WHEELING - They may not play guitar or sing on the Capitol Theatre stage, but out-of-state workers staying in local hotels as part of the Marcellus and Utica shale boom are having a major impact on operations at the venue.
That's because money from hotel/motel tax is being used pay the debt the Wheeling-Ohio County Convention and Visitors Bureau owes for the theatre.
"Oil and gas pretty much did it. We were able to take care of a historic building in our community with revenue generated from people who don't live here," said Frank O'Brien, the bureau's executive director
After former owner LiveNation closed the theater for numerous fire code violations in 2007, O'Brien's bureau purchased the Capitol for $615,000 in 2009. Since the venue reopened that September, officials have since installed new seats, fire sprinklers, a fire escape, a concession stand, restroooms and made other upgrades.
At about the same time in 2009, the Marcellus and Utica rush hit the Wheeling area when city leaders and officials with the Wheeling Park Commission signed a drilling deal with Chesapeake Energy for the Oglebay Park property. The industry grew steadily thereafter in both the Northern Panhandle and eastern Ohio.
The CVB is a private nonprofit organization funded entirely from hotel/motel tax revenue generated from those renting hotel rooms in Ohio County. In 2009, O'Brien said the firm collected about $662,000 via this tax, while maintaining about 1,100 available rooms.
HOTEL COMPARISON FOR WHEELING-OHIO COUNTY DURING THE SHALE BOOM
Hotel/Motel Tax Revenue for Convention and Visitors Bureau:
2014: $1.28 million
Hotel Rooms in Wheeling-Ohio County:
Five years later - with the new Microtel Inn & Suites By Wyndham, the Suburban Extended Stay Hotel, Holiday Inn Express and Hampton Inn & Suites open at The Highlands - and demand for lodging very strong, the bureau collected $1.28 million worth of the tax on 1,651 rooms.
"We have improved the life of people in Ohio County with these hotel/motel taxes," O'Brien said. "We are now averaging 57,000 people a year going to shows at the Capitol."
In fact, O'Brien said visitors spent about $40 million to rent rooms in Ohio County last year.
He attributes most of this traffic to the pipeliners, drillers, frackers, truckers and construction workers in the area for the oil and natural gas industry.
All of this added revenue should help O'Brien's group pay off the theater, entirely, by May 2020, he said.
Even with the new hotels open, O'Brien said demand continues to be high, especially during special events such as Jamboree In The Hills and the Beast of the East baseball tournament.
"Is it hard to get a room? I believe so, especially during special events," he said. "I have always felt that Ohio County was undeserved in the number of hotel rooms we had available," he said.
"We know someday, the bubble is going to burst. The oil and gas workers will go home," O'Brien said. "I am confident we will be able to keep the rooms occupied once the oil and gas people leave."