West Virginia Penitentiary Conference Center

The Moundsville Center in the Former WV State Penitentiary (Blue Building)

It seems not a day goes by that Suzanne Park, executive director of the Moundsville Economic Development Council, has a dull moment.From hosting celebrities to tea parties, Marshall County has no reason to slow down. On a recent weekday, Park said the county played host to a popular food celebrity and his family and more than 1,000 students who collected back-to-school supplies.
The well-known, now-shuttered state penitentiary has hosted tours for 20 years, but a new conference center on the property has brought the county a lot more since 2008.
“You’re really just limited by your imagination,” Park said of the space. “We can make the room as big or as small as we need to.”The facility is unique, but the location is much different from most conference centers.“You literally drive or walk through the archway wall of the penitentiary, where wagons came in to deliver goods and services,” Park said. “Walking through the side of a wall, inside the yard is really pretty awesome.”

The space was previously utilized by the state Division of Corrections. It takes a little imagination to craft the underground, metal-roofed building into a wedding reception area or place for girls to have a tea party, but Park said those who have used it have no problem.The idea to house the development council in the space came from not wanting to see the space wasted. After the DOC, the Correctional Emergency Response Teams trained there. A federal agency at Wheeling Jesuit University called the Office of Law Enforcement Technology Commercialization created mock prison riots. The building was then gutted made into a space for the community to use however it would see fit.Park said the painted concrete floors and high ceilings can be transformed by cascading drapes and hanging chandeliers, making the space popular for weddings. The area also can be used for large community gatherings such as health fairs, business conferences or steak suppers. Park said a steak fry is a popular way for organizations to gather a lot of people and raise money.“We can do them at this facility, up to 800 people at a time — tables, chairs, all that,” Park said of the dinner party fundraisers.“The building lends itself to anything you want it to be,” Park said.

Although the facility can be rented through the Moundsville Economic Development Council, Park said most of the money goes into the upkeep of the air-conditioned building. “We pay staff to work events, keep the doors open,” she said. With the penitentiary next door, and the Grave Creek Mound across the street, the area has plenty of activities and history. While Marshall County has always had the will to entertain, that sense of community now can be matched with a space big enough to store it.

55 Good Things About West Virginia, presented by The State Journal

Marshall County – West Virginia Penitentiary Conference Center

By MANDI CARDOSI / For The State Journal

DIGITAL EDITION: 55 Good Things About W.Va. — 2016