As 2017 draws to a close, it’s all starting to come together at the Robinson Grand Performing Arts Center construction site.
Work on all aspects of the 950-seat theater is on schedule and according to plan, said Executive Director Ryan Tolley.
“Construction is moving right along,” he said. “Of course, our focus here lately has been getting everything buttoned up for the winter.”
The project is currently on track to meet its projected soft opening date at the “beginning of June,” and its grand opening is scheduled for “mid-October,” Tolley said.
As those dates get closer and closer, Tolley said he has been working to book the theater’s debut acts.
“Right now, we’re in the offer phase,” he said. “We’ve submitted a lot of offers to both regional and national acts; they’re out there floating around with the agencies. We’ve gotten a few counters back, and we’re waiting on more of those.”
There are still some major aspects of the theater to be finalized, including the specifics of its operational budget, Tolley said.
“We are currently working on that,” Tolley said. “We have some loose numbers, but as we move closer to the first of the year, we are really starting to quantify what our staff levels will be. The budget is a work and progress, but we have started to solidify parts of it.”
Clarksburg Mayor Cathy Goings said she is extremely pleased with the progress that has been made with the project over the past year.
“I feel that it has been above our expectations,” she said. “The contractor has been moving full steam ahead from day one, and we’ve had good weather. We’re starting to see it all come together. We used to say that the project would be completed in a year, but now we’re talking months. We’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
NCWV Media’s Editorial Board has selected The Robinson Grand Performing Arts Center as the 2017 Public Project of the Year because of its potential to contribute to the Clarksburg economy, its commitment to supporting the performing arts and its promise to culturally enrich the community.
Making the $15 million renovation and expansion project actually happen is the result of collaboration between many city officials over many years, Clarksburg City Manager Martin Howe said.
“The entire project was a very extensive planning process, from taking the City Council’s concept of acquiring and renovating the RGPAC and bringing it to a reality,” he said.
Watching the project begin to take form after years of preparation is extremely gratifying, Goings said.
“It’s great to see the fruits of our labor,” she said. “This was a long, tedious project. Councils prior to us had considered doing the project, but it was only in the last four years that we were actually able to acquire the property and proceed with the project. And now here we are, only four or five months away from the completion. It’s like a dream come true.”
If it weren’t for the incentives provided by state and federal tax credit programs, Clarksburg may not have been able to undertake an ambitious project like the Robinson Grand, Howe said.
“Incorporating the various tax programs — the historical tax credits and the new market tax credits — those make the project feasible,” he said. “Otherwise, the city may not have been able to move those projects forward.”
City officials have a responsibility to facilitate the preservation of historically significant structures, for the good of future generations, Howe said.
“There is always an emotional commitment for any community to preserve its past,” he said. “Well-preserved, renovated or restored historical structures are used as anchors by governments, as well as an asset for future revitalization efforts.”
By choosing to invest in preservation projects like the Robinson Grand, communities are making an investment in themselves and the region around them, Goings said.
“Not only is it an asset of the city of Clarksburg, but it’s an asset for the entire county and North Central West Virginia,” she said.
The opening of the theater is expected to have significant impact on the region’s economy, Goings said.
“A venue such as this will bring people in from out of town. They will stay in our hotels. They will eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores and that all goes back into the community,” she said. “From a business perspective, I think this is one of the greatest projects our city has undertaken. It will change the face of the entire county.”
Although the Robinson Grand’s doors are not even open yet, Goings said city officials are already looking ahead to the next big project.
“After the beginning of the year I want to have another strategic planning session,” she said. “I want to get members of council together and look at what other opportunities are out there as a city and see what direction we want to go from here. The groundwork has been laid with the Robinson Grand, and we need to move to the next level.”
There are not yet concrete plans as to what the city’s next project might be, Goings said.
“We’ll be looking at anything that complements the Performing Arts Center,” she said. “I personally would like to see a boutique hotel in the immediate downtown area, because we will have visitors from out of the area, as well as performers, who will need accommodations. So, I think that just goes hand-in-hand.”
Story and Photos by Charles Young of Exponent Telegram