WHEELING - Walking through the hallways of the historic downtown McLure Hotel these days, one is almost certain to run into oil and gas workers preparing to spend the night.
"Because of this industry, we have been able to hire about 10 new people and make some improvements," Cindy Johnson, general manager of the McLure, said. "We had a fabulous year in 2012."
Such is the case at hotels throughout Wheeling, as the Hampton Inn on National Road and various properties in the Elm Grove area continue hosting large numbers of pipeliners, drillers, frackers, truckers and other workers employed because of the Marcellus and Utica shale rush.
The clearest indication of how the oil and gas industry has helped boost business at local inns may be the marked increase in hotel/motel tax collections over the past few years.
As noted by Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie during last week's State of the City speech, 2012 was a record year for city collections - up $400,000 since 2010.
According to Wheeling-Ohio County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Frank O'Brien, total hotel/motel taxes generated in the city during 2012 were $1.57 million. This is up from $1.33 million in 2011 - and $1.17 million in 2010.
Hotel/Motel Tax Collections in City of Wheeling:
2012 - $1.57 million
2011 - $1.33 million
2010 - $1.17 million
Source: Wheeling-OhioCounty Convention and Visitors Bureau
The oil and gas boom "is certainly a contributing factor to our increase," O'Brien said. "We had been slightly increasing each year, but the increase is more obvious and substantial now."
Fifty percent of the bed tax funding goes to the city of Wheeling - about $778,500 - while the remaining 50 percent goes to the CVB. O'Brien uses the funding to promote tourism in Wheeling and to help pay off the $1.4 million debt still owed on the Capitol Theatre purchase.
O'Brien said Oglebay Park and Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack remain major draws for those staying in hotel rooms, as do special events such as the Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival and the Ogden Newspapers Half Marathon Classic.
Johnson noted the McLure hosts many wedding parties, wrestling teams and baseball teams throughout the year. She also said some of those performing at the nearby Capitol stay at the McLure, in addition to some who come to town to watch the shows. Still, Johnson said most of the business increase is due to the burgeoning oil and gas industry.
"We are up to 80 percent average occupancy now," said Johnson, noting that average was less than 50 percent just a few years ago. In addition to the 170 regular guest rooms, she said the McLure has 30 apartments, all of which are currently occupied.
Johnson said it is "amazing" to again see the McLure bustling with activity. She said the hotel was originally built in 1852. Much of the original building was removed to make room for new construction approximately 30 years ago.
"We have a very good relationship with these folks," Johnson said, noting most of the workers travel out into the rural portions of Ohio, Marshall, Brooke and Belmont counties to reach their jobs.
"Because of their business, we have been able to reopen our lounge. Now, we are working on getting the restaurant open again," she said, noting the McLure leases out this space to another entrepreneur to run the restaurant and lounge.
Johnson said the McLure has endured through the rise and fall of the steel, coal and glass industries in the Wheeling area. She does not know how long the oil and gas rush will last, but is glad it is here.
"From what I hear, this may just be the beginning. That is why you have all of the new hotels being built," Johnson said in reference to new properties soon to open at The Highlands and in St. Clairsville.