WesBanco Arena and Capitol Theatre
defining history and excellence in the region
Venues that provide first-class entertainment and a look into the proud history of the region
WesBanco Arena and Capitol Theater are two of the most prominent and universally recognized buildings in Wheeling, West Virginia. The arena is a multi-purpose facility built in 1977 for just $7 million with a capacity of more than 5,400 fans. It is home to the Wheeling Nailers ice hockey team of the ECHL, the Mountain East Conference men’s college basketball tournament, and various events for the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference (OVAC) including its wrestling meets.
The Capitol Theatre has an even more historic background. It is the largest theater in West Virginia and a landmark building in the national historic district of downtown Wheeling. For many years, it has served as the home of the Wheeling Jamboree and continues to host the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra. The Wheeling Jamboree was the second oldest country music radio broadcast in the U.S. after the Grand Ole Opry. It originated in 1933 on radio station WWVA, the first radio station in West Virginia, and ran until 2009.
It has been a tough three years for the two venues in the wake of the COVID pandemic. The Nailers hockey team had a COVD-shortened season with limited fans in 2021 but came back to a full schedule for the 2022-2023 season. WesBanco Arena will host its first concert in nearly a decade when Whiskey Myers comes to town on June 2. The hope is that this will lead to a run of concerts and musical acts at the arena over the next few years, said Greater Wheeling Sports and Entertainment Executive Director Kelly Tucker, a Wheeling native. Greater Wheeling Sports and Entertainment oversees the management of the two venues.
“We saw it not just here in Wheeling but around the country that entertainment venues were the first to close and the last to fully open from the pandemic,” Tucker says. “We’re starting to see a sense of normalcy now,”
That is great news not just for the venues but the region as a whole. Tucker says that the Wheeling area is “crazy” about sports and that extends beyond the Nailers’ schedule. Fans turn out in large numbers for various OVAC sporting events and the arena hosts several notable college and high school cheerleading competitions as well. Other high school events hosted by the arena are highly attended. She estimates that both venues have a $5 million economic impact, derived largely from out-of-towners attending events.
The OVAC Athletic Hall of Fame sponsored by the Robinson Automotive Group of Wheeling is located inside WesBanco Arena as well. It is a draw because the Hall of Fame honors athletes and coaches who competed prior to the conference start in 1943 or while their schools were not OVAC members as well as OVAC athletes and coaches over the last 80 years.
As a way to expose more members of the community to events at the arena and theatre, the two venues offer lower rates for teams to participate in high school or youth events that are hosted. For WesBanco Arena this can include youth basketball leagues and clinics.
As a nearly 50-year-old venue, WesBanco Arena has undergone several upgrades in recent years to help modernize the facility. One is an efficient new ice system that allows workers to turn over the arena from an ice event to a non-ice event and vice versa, faster with more safety features. Additionally, more than 2,000-floor chairs were replaced and given away to members of the community with more comfortable chairs added. Those comprised the original floor chairs that were added when the arena opened nearly 50 years ago.
A new stage was added that doesn’t require an array of risers to function. Upcoming modernization plans include several safety and security features paid for by grants from the state of West Virginia. These include cameras, keyless entry for employees, new exterior and interior commercial doors, and more.
The theater is also getting a partial makeover with safety and security features, but many new updates were made back in 2014. Investments in the years since include new seats and carpeting, a modern sound system, renovated bathrooms, and a concession stand. Management is replacing much of the old plaster inside the theater while embarking on a plan to revamp and modernize the dressing rooms.
Says Tucker, “these venues have a significant history within our community.” The (Wheeling) Convention and Visitors Bureau researched the brand and economic impact of the Capitol Theatre and raised enough money to purchase it after WWVA radio stopped broadcasting the Jamboree. From 1936 – 2004 it was a staple of the community and still holds a significant amount of pride with local residents, she says. Tucker should know – her first job in high school was selling tickets at the theater’s box office.
“COVID really helped us to move forward and modernize in a lot of ways,” Tucker says. In addition to the aforementioned upgrades, the Capitol Theatre increased its use of online ticket operations and has invested more of its marketing dollars in social media and digital marketing. The same can be said of WesBanco Arena. In her role, Tucker is trying to create more buzz while collaborating with colleagues to attract unique acts and activities, such as off-Broadway acts.
“Many of our events have been in place for a number of years and those are extremely valuable and important to the community,” she says, highlighting monster truck pulls as one of several examples. But given the venues compete with the Charleston, West Virginia market 180 miles away for acts, she wants to add more diversity.
“I think you will see some interesting new acts and (entertainment) here in the next year or two,” Tucker says. “We are working on a number of exciting new things.”
While there is excitement around what’s to come for WesBanco Arena and the Capitol Theatre, there are some challenges. Perhaps the most notable one is hiring event staff, especially in part-time and seasonal roles. Many of the full-time employees have been with the venues for many years, and teams like the maintenance staff go to great lengths to ensure everything runs smoothly.
Says Tucker, “we all work hard to create a fun atmosphere for guests but getting the employees we need can be difficult.”
Fortunately, there are strong partners available to help. In addition to the Wheeling CVB, the Wheeling Nailers organization and the city of Wheeling are strong partners to help drive ticket sales and branding efforts. Part of these efforts includes marketing other venues and fun things to do around the Wheeling area such as the Wheeling Island Hotel Casino Racetrack and the city’s park system.
Wheeling maintains and operates over 30 public spaces, 22 neighborhood playgrounds, the Nelson Jordan Center, nine tennis courts, four pickleball courts, 19 basketball courts, and over 25 ball fields dotting the city. Many of its playgrounds have recently undergone renovations. Wheeling’s paved trail system is the region’s largest and the state’s largest urban network, with 24 miles of rails-to-trail for walkers, joggers, cyclists, and rollerbladers. Featured parks include Wheeling Park and Oglebay Park, which offers outstanding recreational opportunity to both residents and visitors.
A large variety of restaurants await visitors with plenty of hotels and privately owned rooms available for rent that attracts tourists of all ages.
“We want to provide a list of events that prevent many of our residents from traveling too far for entertainment while drawing new visitors to Wheeling, Tucker says. “There’s so much these historical venues have to offer.”
AT A GLANCE
WesBanco Arena and Capitol Theater
What: Two venerable venues that offer history, excellence, and top-tier performances in sports and entertainment
Where: Wheeling, West Virginia
Website: https://www.wesbancoarena.com/ https://www.capitoltheatrewheeling.com/
WesBanco – www.wesbanco.com
Founded in 1870, WesBanco, Inc. is a stable, diversified and balanced financial services company that delivers large bank capabilities with a community bank feel. Their distinct long-term growth strategies are built upon unique sustainable advantages permitting them to span six states with meaningful market share.
The Health Plan – www.healthplan.org
The Health Plan (THP) is a clinically-driven, technology-enhanced health insurance company providing customer-focused coverage to businesses, families and individuals for over 40 years. From employer, commercial and self-funded plans to Medicare and Medicaid, THP is focused on improving the health and well-being of their members and communities across the mid-Atlantic region and nationally.