The historic FirstEnergy theatre?

Energy giant could pay for naming rights to city’s Colonial Theatre

BUCKHANNON — The City of Buckhannon is trying to build its pool of funding for a rebuild of the old Colonial Theatre.

During a special city council meeting Thursday afternoon, council approved a $250,000 grant application the city will submit to the FirstEnergy Foundation. The money, if received, will be used to fund the revamping and restoration of the Colonial Theatre, at 48 E. Main St., which city officials hope will one day function as an arts, youth and multi-purpose center.

City architect Bryson VanNostrand presented the grant application to council, after having been instrumental in helping the city secure a $102,000 grant from the state of West Virginia’s Division of Culture and History in 2017.

According to mayor David McCauley, FirstEnergy officials have given the city “verbal assurance” that they planned on donating a significant amount of money further the project.

VanNostrand said he’d finalized a “table of gifts,” which details what naming rights FirstEnergy will receive in exchange for their potential donation.

“Table of gifts typically suggests that you’ve got the big ticket items and the little ticket items to give a potential funder,” he said. “And in this case, we’re just simply talking about naming rights that would relate to the name of the facility as well as individual rooms and theater space, classroom-type spaces, etc. within the building.”

VanNostrand said that from his experience, if an entity contributes half the cost of the total project — in this case $250,000 of a $495,000 price tag — the structure would be named after the organization and could become known as the FirstEnergy Center. The city has applied for $250,000, but it is also offering naming rights for other, lesser amounts; for instance, the first floor main theater would be named after FirstEnergy if the company invests $150,000 in the project.

McCauley said he wasn’t sure exactly how much the energy company plans to give.

“We’ve received some strong oral assurances that there will be some funds coming from FirstEnergy,” the mayor said. “We don’t know the precise magnitude yet, but anything we get is literally pennies from heaven.”

This wouldn’t be the first naming deal for FirstEnergy. The company purchased naming rights for the Cleveland Browns stadium in 2013. The Akron Beacon Journal reported that deal was worth more than $100 million.

FirstEnergy is based in Ohio  and merged with Allegheny Energy and Mon Power in 2011. Ohio approved a $600 million rate hike for the company last year.

City recorder Dr. Susan Aloi said she wasn’t comfortable voting on approving the grant application because she hadn’t seen a plan for how the city will work with various community partners over the long term regarding facility usage.

“I haven’t seen a feasibility study or a business plan,” Aloi said. “I understand partnerships, but ‘this organization will use it for this,’ and ‘that organization will use it for that,’ but are they promising to rent it? And if not, then we’re obligated with this grant for the city to just pay for all of it all? I’m just concerned about some of the things like, this organization is going to do this there, and that organization is going to do that there and they committed to paying for it.

“If we vote on approving this, are we saying that this plan is what we’re going to follow, this programmatic plan?” Aloi asked.

VanNostrand replied, “This is our wish list, this is what we project to happen, this is what we think is happening. I think, Susan, your question is, what is the city committing to? And what I’m trying to tell you is these grant applications clearly have built within them some wiggle room about what do you think is going to happen in here verses what actually is going to happen.

“The grant with FirstEnergy, that’s a private entity, so I don’t know that there’s much ‘have to’ language in there,” he added.

Aloi said her question about programming hadn’t been adequately answered and she was going to abstain from voting on the application as a result. Councilman CJ Rylands made a motion to authorize McCauley to sign and execute the grant application to president of FirstEnergy Foundation president Dee Lowery, which was seconded by councilman David Thomas prior to passing unanimously.

In related news, council also voted to approve a grant application prepared by information coordinator and grants writer Callie Cronin Sams, for the establishment of a volunteer center, which will be known as the Buckhannon Volunteer Center.

Sams briefed council on the application she had prepared, which asks for $26,513 in Volunteer West Virginia Volunteer Generation Fund grant funds.

“We want to build a volunteer center, which will match volunteers with volunteering opportunities within the city,” Sams explained. The federal grant comes with a 20 percent in-kind or cash match, which amounts to $5,303. The money will pay for hiring a part-time staff member to operate the volunteer center, a volunteer management software application, training of volunteer leaders, advertising and promotion of the center and more, Sams said. Rylands made a motion to approve the grant application, which was seconded by councilwoman Mary Albaugh prior to passing unanimously.

In other news, council also:

-Voted to accept the resignation of Buckhannon Fire Chief Jim Townsend

-Approved appointing BFD Captain J.B. Kimble as interim fire chief, until the city hires a new chief, which will likely happen in late March or early April. Kimble will receive a stipend from the city for up to 10 hours of additional administrative work a week.

-Approved increasing VanNostrand’s compensation from $200 a month to $500 a month, effective Jan. 1, 2018.

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