Last Updated: Apr 27th, 2015 - 11:04:56

Beacon drawing crowds to Hopewell
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Apr 29, 2014, 13:49

JAMES PEACEMAKER JR./HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT The Beacon Theatre has been drawing thousands of people to downtown Hopewell.
HOPEWELL — As the new year descended upon the city of Hopewell, a once dormant landmark opened its doors to the residents of Hopewell and beyond. The Beacon Theatre has come alive again after a more than $4 million renovation and has brought music, culture and a future back to the city. 

In January of this year, Leon Russell took the stage to a sold out opening show at the Beacon. Hundreds gathered to see the new theater and spend an evening under the lights of the stage. 

The Beacon had not seen a crowd of people in the seats in the auditorium for almost three decades. The theater had been vacant since the 1980s before being taken over by the Hopewell Preservation Inc. in 1997. While some renovations were completed, the project did not get off the ground until last year when J.W. Enochs began the $4.1 million facelift for the theater. 

Soon after the bricks and mortar were being put in place, a request for proposals was sent out in July of last year requesting someone with a knowledge base of the industry to run the theater. 

The request for proposals was closed in the middle of August and there was one bidder, the Wells Group, with Brad Wells being the principal in the group. Despite lingering concerns from a few council members, council voted 4-3 in the months following to allow the Beacon LLC to draw up contracts to hire the promoter. 

Wells brings with him 20 years of experience in the entertainment industry, as he has worked to book shows for The National, in Richmond, Innsbrook After Hours and Pocahontas Live. 

After working on bringing shows to the Beacon for almost six months, Wells is very pleased with the end results, as several of the shows have sold out. 

“I have been pleasantly surprised because again anytime you have a new venue, I don’t care of it’s in New York city or LA or Hopewell, it just doesn’t matter,” Wells said. “You have that challenge of educating people and making them aware of not only where it is, what it is, how good it is, but it’s always about what’s on the stage. We’ve been fortunate enough to this point to have gotten a great schedule in all humility. I’m very proud of it.” 

Wells, who is the general manager of the Beacon, said since the Beacon has been open, there have several sold out shows, such as Delbert McClinton, The Temptations and Vanilla Ice. Other bands have performed such the Psychedelic Furs and The Blind Boys of Alabama. The Psychedelic Furs concert proved to be a success for Wells in that it brought people to Hopewell from all over the area. 

“That was the first time we saw people really traveling from Richmond or Midlothian or the West End of Richmond and other parts as opposed to Colonial Heights, Petersburg, Chester and Hopewell,” Wells said. “That was cool and it was a surprisingly good show. A lot of people thought it was one of the best sounding shows that we’ve had.” 

In March of last year, CultureWorks, a nonprofit organization that provides service and leadership for arts and culture in Richmond, came to the city to review the Beacon project. The group provided the Beacon LLC with some numbers to consider once the Beacon opened its doors. 

The group reported that the average per person audience expenditures is $24.60, which is additional monies apart from the sale of the tickets. Most of that cost reflects meals, snacks and refreshments totaling $13.14. 

Though Wells did not provide an exact number on the revenue generated by the Beacon thus far, he estimated it be “hundreds of thousands easily in ticket sales.” But perhaps the more important number, as least to Wells, is the number of people that not only come into the theatre, but into the city. He estimated that figure to be around 10,000 people. 

Wells also indicated that part of the revenue that is being brought into the Beacon is spent on bringing the talent to the stage, of which he said can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000. He was also confident that the Beacon could sustain a performer as high as $50,000. 

“You want to create an artistic culture. You also want to create a people mover. You want traffic coming in and economic stimulus,” Wells said. 

Effect on Hopewell

That effect is being spread to all parts of Hopewell, especially the downtown. Evan Kaufman, executive director of the Hopewell Downtown Partnership, said the Beacon has had a “tremendous” impact on the downtown. He, like Wells, was also pleasantly surprised at the number of people who have traveled into the city. 

“I don’t think anybody knew exactly what the impact the Beacon would have,” Kaufman said. “It was kind of unpredictable and a little bit of an anomaly for something like that to work in this area when a lot of conventional wisdom would say a theater like that can’t work. We kind of proved that all wrong.” 

For Kaufman, the momentum has been building all of last year and into this year. He said last year the foundation was starting to be put in place for the partnership and for downtown and has continued to grow and flourish with the start of this year. 

“Really the organization itself expanded with a lot of new board members, functioning committees and committee members so we’re starting to get to a point where the organization is running like a well-oiled machine,” Kaufman said. 

Last year, downtown Hopewell was all about revitalization and rehabilitations. Kaufman said though the projects might have been on a smaller scale, they were much more visible. He said last year and into the first part of this year, has been working on tackling those fundamental challenges that have stalled the success of downtown Hopewell in the past. 

In June of last year, Herman Lam opened Harvest Asian Bistro where the old Pearl River Restaurant was located. The restaurant has hosted special events and has been successful at drawing people downtown for their Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese dishes.

In December, the City of Hopewell was one of five localities to be awarded an Industrial Revitalization Fund grant, which as Kaufman said, was one of the projects last year he was most exceed about. 

The $387,900 grant will go toward the project of bringing a coffee shop and art gallery to downtown Hopewell. The grant will be used for the rehabilitation of the former Hopewell Furniture building, one of the largest on Broadway.

Thomas Wagstaff, president and CEO of CapUP who is spearheading the project, is currently working on taking the project to the next level. Part of the stipulation of the grant was to match the funds provided by the state. Wagstaff said the funding is almost in place and renovations should be right around the corner. 

He is currently reviewing proposals from architects and said the selection process will begin shortly thereafter. In addition to the coffee shop and art gallery, Wagstaff is also proposing to add a wine bar to the building. 

“I am so looking forward to this project,” Wagstaff said, which he hopes will be completed by spring of 2015. “I am hoping this will be the catalyst to change East Broadway.” 

The momentum that has been building in downtown has spread to all corners of the city. Kaufman said the Beacon has left people with an “amazing feeling” that will be remembered for quite some time and a feeling that many have not had in Hopewell for quite some time. 

“To have such a jewel in Hopewell that’s kind of shining and the shine from that extends all around Hopewell so every part of Hopewell is getting positively impacted by this one project,” he said. 

And that is a positive impact that Wells is going to continue in the coming years for the Beacon. Though starting out with many musical concerts, he is going to expand into other entertainment opportunities, such as comedy performances and showcasing local talent. 

“It’s going to go quite all over the map. The Beacon is what a lot of people in the industry would call a performing arts center. ... We’ll get into theater, musicals if you will, maybe even do some movies,” Wells said. “We’ll continue to be diverse musically. We’ll do comedies. ... We’ll build local shows. We’ve got a lot of tribute bands.” 

Upcoming acts for the Beacon include The Village People on May 21, Hendrix Lives! on May 30, Kansas on June 21, and an upcoming stand-up comedy show by Wayne Brady on Oct. 4.  

Though the Beacon has been a surprise performer to Wells and many in and around the city, it has continued to be and will continue to be, a gem for the city of Hopewell. It is also a project that fell into Wells’ lap and one that he is more than proud to be a part of. 

“I just couldn’t resist such a fun, vicariously creative project that anybody would be blessed to participate in,” Wells said. “... I’m very excited about it. I’m very passionate about it. I’ve loved all the people I’ve met. I have made amazing friends in such a short time. You can see the incredible potential of this two river junction and this town and everybody wants to make it work and I’m all about it.” 

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