Other than a few employees inside doing routine maintenance chores and construction workers outsize rebuilding a plaza, the Mountain Health Arena in downtown Huntington has been a lonely place for nearly a year.
No concerts, no WWE events, no bull riding or motocross events have occurred there since March, when most entertainment arenas nationwide were ordered to close as part of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cindy Collins, the general manager of Mountain Health Arena, says she could go on and on about the number of events lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We haven’t hosted a single arena event since March of last year,” Collins told HD Media reporter Fred Pace. “We have done a few things on the convention center side. The governor is allowing weddings and church events. When some of the regulations loosened up there were some small things approved by the health department for Marshall, but not very much.”
The arena lost concerts, high school events and other shows in 2020. Collins estimates the arena has lost at least $1 million since the pandemic hit.
“The pandemic has had a devastating impact,” she said.
Collins said she and the managers of the state’s other three large arenas — the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center, the Beckley-Raleigh Convention Center and WesBanco Arena in Wheeling — signed a letter last fall asking Gov. Jim Justice for help through federal COVID relief money the state had received. Justice responded by giving the arenas $500,000 each, she said.
Collins said she talks with show promoters regularly. The feeling now is that things will slowly move back to normal as the COVID vaccine becomes available to the general public. We may see some small outdoor events in the spring, and if all goes well, indoor events could return in the summer.
“It’s hard to predict,” she said. “We are hoping to be back to normal around September 2021.”
The economic impact of arenas extends to the downtowns where they are located. Downtown businesses have suffered as the pandemic forced offices to close and as more people work from home. As previously reported, some retail businesses have shifted their business models toward online shopping and away from walk-in traffic.
It will be good when the Mountain Health Arena and others like it in West Virginia have permission to reopen. In these times, people need entertainment, fairs, festivals and similar events as a break from everyday life. Given what’s happened in the past year, we really need places where we can enjoy life with friends, family and even strangers.
If we all do our parts to defeat the virus, this summer could be a good one.