Met Theatre manager discusses hosting Fox News debate

MORGANTOWN — By this time next week, we’ll know who won the Republican primary seeking one of two West Virginia seats in the U.S. Senate — Evan Jenkins, Patrick Morrisey or Don Blankenship.

But according to Joe Kaehler, longtime manager of the Morgantown Metropolitan Theatre, we already know who won when the trio traded jabs at the theater Tuesday during a nationally televised debate.

“The huge winner out of all of this was Morgantown. They showed great views of the city. They showed the theater, which looked spectacular on TV. They had 56 rooms reserved in local hotels. They were here for four days and probably dropped $100,000 while they were in town,” Kaehler said. “What’s the downside?”

The “they” Kaehler is referring to is the 50-plus Fox News employees who set up and operated the 90-minute national broadcast.

Kaehler said the theater has been a backup site for national political figures on a couple of occasions and was set to host an interview of President Donald Trump by Fox’s Sean Hannity last October before the mass shooting in Las Vegas canceled the taping.

Tuesday, he explained, was the theater’s biggest performance to date.

“Two and a half million people watched the Met Theatre for an hour and a half,” Kaehler said. “It doesn’t matter to me who comes in here — like them or not, vote for them or not. That was a big night for the theater, for the city.”

Morgantown Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB) Executive Director Susan Riddle agrees. She said the CVB would be hard pressed to purchase the kind of exposure that comes with a national television broadcast.

“I think the real plus off of that coverage was the fact that it was ‘Morgantown, West Virginia, Morgantown, West Virginia’ mentioned over and over and over again, and not just during the debate but for days leading up to it,” Riddle said.

Morgantown Police Chief Ed Preston said there was no additional expense for security as Fox News contracted with Pinkerton Security Management, out of Washington D.C., and hired off-duty Morgantown officers for the event, preventing cost to the city.

Preston went on to explain that it was his decision to close one lane of High Street while the broadcast vehicles and equipment were parked along the road in front of the theater.

He said that had the road needed to be closed entirely, a permit would have been required from the West Virginia Department of Highways.

Fox News paid the same rate as any other for-profit entity that wishes to rent the theater — $1,400 a day, plus technician costs for things like lighting and sound, according to Kaehler.

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