COVID-19 crippling effect on arenas and the impact on local economies

Special Reports

CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) The tri-state’s three major arenas have been crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic. The loss of business has affected workers, performers and the local economy. 

Concerts, sporting events and other live shows have been postponed or canceled, including the elimination of The Basketball Tournament regional basketball event in Charleston. 

We visited all three arenas to see the effects of the shutdown and how they plan to recover.     

What should now be full of cheers now only comes silence. Empty seats. Silent loud speakers. 

Jim Smith is the interim director of the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center. He’s worked there for 20 years. 

“A few challenges but nothing like this,” Smith said. “The uncertainty with this pandemic is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.” 

COVID-19 forced the abrupt closure of the coliseum during opening games of the West Virginia high school girls’ basketball tournament in March. Since then, Smith says the arena, convention center, and municipal auditorium have lost about 150 dates and $800,000 in revenue. 

More broadly, he said the economic hit for Charleston now stands at about $5.5 million. 

That’s the ripple effect on nearby hotels, restaurants, and shopping. 

“We’re here to support our local community and it’s tough to support when you’re mandated to be shut down,” Smith said. 

Brantley Gilbert played before 5,000 fans at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville, Kentucky on February 29 … the last concert before the shutdown. Then, says arena general manager Paul Bowles, the dominoes began falling. 

“It started that weekend with the boat and RV show, followed by the rodeo, and then soon after that they all started falling pretty quick,” Bowles said. 

He says the arena has lost around 14 shows and events and about $350,000 in revenue. 

Bowles said the latter part of 2019 was really good for the arena which has helped lessen the blow.  

“We actually had a good little cushion. We were on record pace,” Bowles said. 

He says the Pikeville area has lost about $1.2 million from the closure of the arena, event center and Appalachian Center for the Arts. 

Alice Cooper and Alison Krauss have canceled their shows at Mountain Health Arena in Huntington where four other concerts have been postponed. 

General manager Cindy Collins said the arena annually provides an $18 million economic impact for the Huntington area. She won’t put a number on how much money the facility has lost, but … 

“Most of my staff is furloughed,” she said. “We’ve been lucky we haven’t had to lay anyone off. My company chose to furlough so they could get benefits and things like that.” 

Now, her 10 furloughed employees are beginning to be called back. 

The Charleston Coliseum and Appalachian Wireless Arena haven’t had to furlough or lay off any workers. All three arenas continue to look at an uncertain future.  

In Pikeville, Poison just postponed its August 8th concert and the August 14th Toby Keith concert has been canceled. 

“How badly are you guys itching to get things going again?” Rob Macko asked.  

“We were ready the day that it started,” Bowles said.  

In Charleston, Smith says they’re waiting for reopening guidelines. The next concert on the calendar, for now  The Charlie Daniels Band and Marshall Tucker Band on August 15, 2020. Modified seating is a real possibility. 

“And of course, Aaron Lewis in September, Luke Bryan we still have scheduled in October so we’re hopeful that there’s an end to this,” Smith said. 

Mountain Health Arena plans to welcome Megadeth in October. 

“We’re staying up to date with how to make our fans feel as safe as possible and really prioritize the safety of our staff and our fans,” said April Bias, director of marketing and sales with Mountain Health Arena.  

“I think we’d want people to wear masks and be careful, until we’re sure,” Collins said. 

Mountain Health Arena is also looking forward to a $1.7 million renovation to the plaza that should be ready by Christmas … with fountains, fire pits, green space, amphitheater seating and free concerts. 

“We have a really great local music scene in Huntington so we fully intend to take advantage of that,” Bias said.   

The arenas also employ part-time workers for concerts and events. None of them have been working since the middle of March. 

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