City Ready To Bid Sports Field

WHEELING – Although city leaders still need about $500,000 to fund the planned J.B. Chambers Recreation Park in East Wheeling, City Manager Robert Herron said the project will go out for bid Wednesday.

A bid opening is set for 2 p.m. June 18, and officials hope construction of the artificial turf field, new playground and basketball courts will begin sometime in August. The project has been designed and ready to go for some time, but the city has been waiting for American Electric Power to relocate utility lines leading to its substation adjacent to the proposed park site on the block between 15th and 16th and Wood and McColloch streets.

After six months of study to develop the best strategy for that complicated and costly effort, AEP should be making substantial progress on moving the lines “in the next 60 or 90 days,” according to Mayor Andy McKenzie.

“Now they have their plan in place … and we’ll be able to move forward,” he said.

The $500,000 to $600,000 cost to relocate the lines is AEP’s responsibility per the terms of Wheeling’s 1988 franchise agreement with the utility company, Herron said. That agreement is set to expire in about four years, and AEP has asked the city to renegotiate for a long-term extension.

An ordinance authorizing that renegotiation is up for a vote at City Council’s next regular meeting on May 21, including a stipulation the legislation won’t go into effect until the utility relocation is complete.

The city has estimated the total project cost, including property acquisition, demolition and construction, at about $3 million. McKenzie said he’s confident the final fundraising push will be successful.

“To finish what we really need (for the project), we really need about a half-million dollars. … We’re going before a lot of people who want to invest in this project,” he said.

To date, the J.B. Chambers Foundation remains the only publicly identified donor to the project, earning the naming rights to the field with a $750,000 contribution. McKenzie previously said the city has received another gift of about $500,000, however, and all contributions and pledges toward the field have been in excess of $50,000.

City officials announced the project in June 2010, after they began acquiring homes on the block, many of them vacant and dilapidated. Most property owners reached agreements to sell, but a few – including then-Councilman James Tiu – held out, prompting the city to invoke eminent domain powers to acquire the last few houses.

Just before the property owners were to have their day in court on the issue, Tiu and the city reached an agreement. The remaining property owners lost their homes after Circuit Judge Arthur Recht ruled the project could proceed in January 2012. Demolition of the homes began a year ago.