City Officials, Citizens Costly Discuss Robinson Grand Renovations

By Jim Davis, Staff Writer, The Exponent Telegram, November 24, 2015

 

picture from paper

Staff Photo by Jim Davis

 

CLARKSBURG — A planned restoration of the former Robinson Grand Theater would cost taxpayers about $365,400 a year, citizens learned Tuesday evening.  The city of Clarksburg is applying for a $7.5 million loan with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, officials with the city and federal agency said during a public hearing at Clarksburg City Hall.  If approved, the loan is to be repaid over 35 years at 3.25 percent interest, the officials said.  “The application for funding was submitted to the USDA,” City Manager Martin Howe told a standing-room-only crowd.  The hearing was held as part of the loan application process with the Department of Agriculture, Howe said.  The Clarksburg Municipal Building Commission is applying for the loan because Clarksburg City Council can’t assume long-term debt.  But the building commission doesn’t have any money, meaning the city has to back all loans.  “The building commission will have to consider the loan once the USDA approves it, as well as the city council to appropriate the funds to pay the debt service for the building,” Howe said.

Besides the loan, the city has retained the services of consultants to assist with a capital campaign and help secure tax credits that would provide immediate equity to the project, Howe added.  The city paid $430,000 for the Robinson Grand last year.  Restoring the West Pike Street theater as a regional cultural center is one of the city’s goals for reviving downtown.  James Swiger, president of WYK Associates, gave an overview of the project, complete with renderings and 3-D animation.  Planned improvements include a basement for dressing rooms, a stage with an orchestra pit, a ballroom/multipurpose room, concession stands, a commercial kitchen, a projection booth and handicapped-accessible restrooms, Swiger said.  Exterior work includes a mechanical room and storage area in the back, a stairwell for a second exit and a new marquee, Swiger said.  The goal has been to make the necessary improvements while retaining the historical integrity of the city landmark, Swiger said.  “Structurally, it’s a sound building,” he added. “There are some things we need to do to bring it up to code, but all in all it’s a pretty sound building.”

The project is tentatively set to go out to bid in February and take 12 to 15 months once construction begins, Swiger said.  A grand opening is planned Dec. 24, 2017, Swiger said, noting that the theater reopened on Christmas Eve 1939 following a fire that gutted the structure seven months earlier.  The theater will have less seating once restored, Swiger acknowledged in answer to a question from the audience.  There will be 800 seats in the auditorium and another 125 seats in the multipurpose room, Swiger said. Currently the theater has 1,050 seats.  The difference is primarily to include cross aisles and meet other building code requirements, as well as to accommodate a physically larger audience, the architect said, referring to his own paunch.  Clarksburg resident Phil Southern expressed concerns about the debt service — which he said would come to about $1,000 a day.  “My concern is how it’s going to pay for itself,” Southern said.  Howe replied that the debt service will be the city’s responsibility.

An operator, meanwhile, will assume the day-to-day responsibilities of seeing that productions generate enough revenue to offset the costs of staging them, Howe added.  Joe Yeager, with Altered Productions, and Dolores Yoke, with the Clarksburg-Harrison Cultural Foundation, said artistic events bring people downtown and have a ripple effect on the economy. The income from a single small event could reach $10,000, he said.  “The arts community is a huge stimulator for the downtown,” he added.  The Robinson Grand opened on Feb. 5, 1913, according to Dorothy Davis’ “History of Harrison County.”  The theater was known as the Rose Garden before it closed several years ago.

 

Staff writer Jim Davis can be reached at (304) 626-1446 or jdavis@theet.com