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Officials, community members tout Keith-Albee fundraising efforts

Keith-Albee
May. 02, 2013 @ 11:00 PM

HUNTINGTON -- There may not have been a full crowd in the house of the historic Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center on Thursday afternoon, but when the curtain was raised, the few in attendance clapped like it was a sold-out crowd.

This applause was on the house, literally.

Thursday, West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, flanked by local members of the state's House of Delegates, the state Senate and Huntington mayor Steve Williams, unveiled an oversized check symbolizing the $300,000 contribution toward the ongoing replacement of the 85-year-old theater's multiple roofs.

Tomblin, the West Virginia House of Delegates and the state Senate all contributed $100,000 each toward the project in addition to grant funds from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, a $25,000 contribution from the City of Huntington and private donations.

Tomblin, who reminisced about being in awe of the ambience of the starry skies of the roof during his college days at Marshall seeing such shows as "Jesus Christ Superstar," said they were so glad to be able to contribute the money that Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, who is the co-president of the Keith-Albee Foundation, came asking for about a year ago.

"We are all proud to be able to contribute to keep the Keith-Albee alive," Tomblin told the crowd, which included former W.Va. Gov. Gaston Caperton, who was being honored later Thursday evening at a function at Marshall.

Acknowledging the dedication of the local representatives (Cabell delegates Kevin Craig, Doug Reynolds and Jim Morgan, all Democrats, as well as state Senators Plymale and Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell), House of Delegates Speaker of the House Richard Thompson, D-Wayne, said it was important that everyone came together to restore the architectural treasure.

"We are reminded daily that to be successful, West Virginia must adjust to economic changes, but it is important also to retain the qualities that have made our state unique," Thompson said.

David Tyson, co-president of the Keith-Albee Foundation, acknowledged many of the local patrons such as Herb and Betty Colker, Liza Caldwell and Trifecta Productions, which headed up the efforts with Tony Wheeler and Paris Signs to restore and improve the damaged Keith-Albee sign that now flashes in Marshall green and white.

Trifecta Productions CEO Jack Reynolds said it took that sign damage in July 2011 for people to understand the Keith-Albee was in such bad need of repairs that it needed community efforts and large-scale investment.

"I think it took the sign for people to rally because it marked Fourth Avenue and it was something so visible that made people understand how bad it was," Reynolds said. "From our office in the Morris Building you could look over and they had blue tarps and concrete blocks covering the roofs."

Those emergency tarp days will be history soon as Huntington's PAR Roofing, which was awarded a contract of $532,000 in February for full replacement of the theater's multiple roof sections, including the marquee roof, will have the work done by summer.

No one had a bigger sigh of relief than KPAC board member Derek Hyman.

His grandfather had the theater built, and his father also operated the historic theater. Hyman said he knows they would be very happy at the announcement about the grand movie palace.

Hyman, who turned the keys of the building over to the nonprofit Foundation in 2006, said the building was in desperate need of a roof because even minimal water damage to the Keith's ornate plaster would be astronomical to fix.

In fact when the Keith suffered smoke damage from a fire at the adjacent jewelry shop in 2003, the cleaning bill for the high-ceiling theater was $750,000 and just the scaffolding to get to the ceiling cost $100,000.

"You have to have the roof secure. This place is all plaster, and the least amount of water ruins it," Hyman said. "That is where the real money is. Anybody can put up four walls, but replacing this plaster work would be tens of millions of dollars."

Plymale said they still need to raise a little bit more to finish off the roof as well as for some other repairs and maintenance needs in the aging theater.

Follow H-D reporter Dave Lavender on Facebook or Twitter @DaveLavenderHD.

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