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Editorial: Keith-Albee gets important state support

Jan. 17, 2013 @ 11:05 PM

When a community-based non-profit took over the future of Huntington's historic Keith-Albee Theater in 2006, the group's leaders knew there was a lot of work to be done.

The 1920s-era movie palace and vaudeville showplace was in many ways remarkably well preserved, and with a few renovations, quickly made the transition to a full-time performing arts center that has hosted an increasingly wide array of events over the past few years.

But there was a long punch list of repairs and improvements that needed to be addressed over time. Unfortunately, the most pressing project -- replacing the building's roof -- carried a big price tag.

This week, leaders of the Keith-Albee Foundation reported that funding from the state of West Virginia will ensure that work is completed.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, the House of Delegates and the state Senate have each set aside $100,000, for a total of $300,000, toward the roof replacement. The foundation also has received a $102,000 matching grant from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, and more than $60,000 has been raised toward that match. Bids for the project will be opened next month.

The community owes a big thanks to longtime Keith-Albee supporters state Sen. Bob Plymale and attorney David Tyson, who have been working on that state assistance for some time. It is also encouraging that Tomblin, House Speaker Rick Thompson and Senate President Jeff Kessler recognize the importance of this Tri-State landmark and helped secure those funds.

Completing the roof project not only protects the integrity of the building, but it also will allow the community to turn its attention to other projects inside the building.

For visitors to concerts or events, one of the first things they might notice are missing seats. The Keith for many years functioned as a "multi-plex" movie theater with two smaller theaters carved into the main floor seating area. Those mini-theater structures have been removed, but seating still needs to be replaced.

On the other side of the footlights, there are other projects that could improve performance areas and accommodate larger shows.

The good news is that residents already have shown their willingness to roll up their sleeves for the Keith-Albee. Volunteers have helped with cleanups, and when the theater's iconic lighted sign was damaged, Joe Murphy and Jack Reynolds of Trifecta Productions lead an effort to raise almost $30,000 to repair and re-install the sign.

With state and community support, the landmark theater can be a regional attraction for many years to come.

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