The COVID-19 pandemic has done a number on entertainment venues over the past year-plus.

“The live entertainment industry was the first to shut down,” Mountain Health Arena Director Cindy Collins said. “And it will be the last to fully reopen. Being a multi-billion dollar business, it was very hard hit.” But Collins said the industry began immediately to make the necessary changes and adaptations, using the enforced down time to plan for when and how to reopen. Collins said those plans were made from a global perspective, with information gathered from multiple countries.

Mountain Health Arena is owned by ASM Global, a management company that covers five continents and 14 countries with more than 300 venues worldwide. It is now open and is the site of live shows again.

“They (ASM) are the largest entertainment management company in the world,” Collins said. “So, when the pandemic hit, they immediately began working with world health experts on all five continents to come up with protocols we needed to try and restart live events.”

One major result of all the gathering of information was the creation of Venue Shield, Collins said. 

“Venue Shield is a program ASM uses in all of their buildings,” Collins said. “It coincides with what the CDC and local health departments and governments say we should be doing.”  

Part of the necessary changes, Collins said, was that all employees who enter the building have their temperatures checked and are required to wear face coverings and follow other health safety protocols. In addition, there has also been company training on pandemic related person hygiene, such as the recommended hand-washing procedure, and social distancing. “And of course, disinfecting and cleaning has become a No. 1 priority as well.”

Beyond personal safety measures and frequent cleaning, other aspects of the venue have undergone necessary changes as well, Collins said.  

Personal safety shields have been installed at all concession areas and personal distancing options such as the customer self-swiping credit cards also help to reduce personal exposure. The goal, Collins said, was reduce the number of times necessary to physically touch different things. 

“And ticketing has moved toward the same type of model,” Collins said. “Ticketmaster, for instance, has worked really hard to come up really innovative mobile ticketing to help reduce contact points. I think that everyone in our industry, even though they were down first, has worked real hard to ensure that they can reopen safely.”

The reopening of entertainment venues such as the Mountain Health Arena in Huntington is an important part of economic recovery as well as providing the various types of entertainment patrons have been denied over the course of the pandemic. Many of these type venues can be seen as a cornerstone of local economies, drawing in tourist dollars in the form of hotel stays, local dining and secondary purchases generated by event patrons shopping at other local stores both before and after events. 

“The arena has an impact of around $20 million for the area as people shop, eat, stay at local hotels, and pay taxes,” Collins said. “So, we look at the importance of that as well, and not just the music industry, for instance.”

Collins said the past year has been extremely difficult on everyone, both on a personal and a business level, but added that there is always an opportunity to learn from adversity and make the future better. 

“I try to look on the positive side of things,” she said. “And one good thing I believe we can take away from this is the benefits that technology offers. Relying on technology was the biggest learning curve in business over the past year. Because of that, we all gained a better knowledge of technological resources and developed better skills.

“We’ve had to learn to use Zoom for virtual meetings, and many employees had to work from home and still be productive. So, we had to use sharing apps like Teams for documents, and all of this has been invaluable to lots of people. We learned to appreciate this technology,” Collins said. “And we learned to not take things for granted. Sometimes we tend to forget our everyday blessings, and don’t learn to appreciate them until they are gone.”

Collins said another important lesson the pandemic taught was an appreciation of the community at large. 

“History has taught us that human beings can be bold, resourceful and resilient,” Collins said. “But my personal epiphany through this is that teamwork isn’t necessarily something that is taught. When co-workers, friends and community members are called upon, they instinctively come together. And that spirit of working together in spite of disagreements is something that is gratifying to see.”

The challenges, the hard work, and the patience have finally brought Collins and her team at Mountain Health Arena to the point they have been working toward from the pandemic onset. 

“We are now open for business, and are able to have live shows again,” Collins said appreciatively. “They are going to be distanced until Gov. (Jim) Justice lifts more of the restrictions, but he is moving fairly quickly. And many states such as Texas are at 100% capacity now. But even though we are still distancing, we can still have shows for a lot of people, and also fill some hotels and restaurants.”

Collins said she has seen a lot of interest from promoters like Live Nation over the last three weeks. 

“A lot of the larger promoters are reaching out and showing interest in the area,” she said. “So, it is encouraging and exciting. I can’t predict the future,” Collins said. “But it is my opinion that by this time next year we will have some semblance of normal.”

Information about upcoming events, including ticket sales, can be found at mountainhealtharena.com and on their social media pages.

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