By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
A Clarksburg structure built over a century ago is undergoing a complete facelift. In fact, for a restoration enthusiast, it is a ‘dream come true’! The former Robinson Grand Theater is undergoing a major overhaul. Mathematically, you could say that demo + reno = restoration!
The all new facility will no longer be just a movie house as it once was; its new name more aptly describes what will be its new persona. The Robinson Grand Performing Arts Center, that will be owned and maintained by the City of Clarksburg, will be multi-functional, a facility to host programs and events that will connect with the interests of all age groups throughout Harrison County and north central West Virginia. Programs and events will include concerts, plays, musicals, dance performances, comedy, lectures/classes, school events, receptions, corporate meetings, etc.
Much detailed, long-range planning was required to chart what will become one of the biggest assets to come to Harrison County in some time. The Performing Arts Center will, upon completion, offer close to 645,000 square feet of space that will bring with it lots of amenities that the City hopes will be a huge drawing card for some headlining entertainers and larger productions in the future. An all new stage, accommodating dressing rooms, lighting, sound system and lifting orchestra pit should help lend great appeal to this venue that will ultimately have a 950 seating capacity!
Add to this that it will have second story uses as well – space for banquet rooms to host business meetings, receptions and smaller events for up to 200 people. A caterer’s kitchen will support food and beverage service throughout the facility. Between event ticket sales, concession revenue and rental income along with sponsorships, ongoing fund-raising and help from the Cultural Foundation’s Barbara Highland fund for the Arts, Clarksburg hopes that will help to sustain this new venue.
The City of Clarksburg is working at the present time on private donations from individuals, businesses and foundations. However, a steering committee is already working on a capital campaign that will open to a public phase to help raise funding for what will be a $15 million structure. You know what is said about ‘making new friends, but keeping the old’? The Robinson Grand Performing Arts Center will become the area’s new friend, boosting the economy here in Harrison County and creating new jobs. But they are ‘keeping the old’ in that this site is so rich in Clarksburg’s history that the City didn’t feel comfortable destroying it and eliminating its possibilities.
Demolition in front of the lobby is 75% complete. City Manager Martin Howe reports that interior demo of the lobby area and demo of the ceiling, floor and ramp are in progress. Seating has been removed. Installation of electrical conduit in the balcony and attic areas is in progress. Stage rigging will soon be removed.
A lot of restoration lies ahead; however, the City is still targeting Spring of next year to hold a soft opening with a formal opening event in the fall of 2018.
It will be exciting to watch as this project takes shape during the next year. Time passes quickly, but right now all we can do is imagine what names will appear on the massive 25-foot marquee scheduled to be placed at the front of this historical structure in the next year and a half! Whose name will flash on the electronic message board as the FIRST entertainers to launch the opening of this wonderful facility?