HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The tourism and entertainment industry in many parts of West Virginia have felt the brunt of the economic blows from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Four arena and entertainment venues in the state will be beginning 2021 with a glimmer of hope, in terms of funding boosts from the CARES Act. Gov. Jim Justice announced during a press briefing in December that Beckley-Raleigh Convention Center (BRCC), Mountain Health Arena in Huntington, the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center (CCCC), and WesBanco Arena in Wheeling will receive money to help keep the lights on.
For Cindy Collins, the general manager of Mountain Health Arena, it came as a sigh of relief, calling the $500,000 “our Christmas present.” She told MetroNews her arena has not hosted a single event since March.
“We made an appeal to the governor to take a look at the economic impact on our venues and our region and see how important they are,” Collins said of the arena leaders’ push to Justice.
“We wanted to see if he could help in any way.”
Collins said herself, Andrea Akers, the General Manager of BRCC, Jim Smith with the CCCC, and Denny Magruder the executive director of WesBanco Arena all met with U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) in the process to ensure funding for venues in the CARES Act.
Mountain Health Arena has lost around $1 million in revenue so far in its fiscal year from July to June, according to Collins. The arena had been set up for the annual Home and Garden Show in March when it was told to tear down due to the impact of the pandemic. Justice announced mandates for no fairs, festivals and public gatherings of more than 100 people in the spring.
The arena went on to lose country concert events, Trolls, high school events, other music events, and shows that were not officially announced yet. Collins estimated the arena has a $17 million impact annually to downtown Huntington and surrounding areas that has been lost.
She said it’s hard to estimate what the losses will look like in the second half of the year with a thin schedule of events. According to Collins, concerts are typically booked nearly a year in advance and she said she has no answers for tours.
“Right now, I am telling all those artists that I can’t guarantee that you can have a show, even at half capacity of even 20% capacity. They are going to have to rethink whether if we are even on their routing,” Collins said.
Mountain Health Arena has 12 full-time employees and 35 part-time employees that have had to mostly work from home for months. She said she hopes to get everyone back to work but ultimately her industry is the first to shut down and the last to recover.
“They are planning outdoor concerts at amphitheaters during the summer to see how those goes. But we are at the highest total for COVID right now so I can’t predict. I have no idea if we will have any shows. We are hoping for fall of 2021.”