Wheeling Rides With Momentum Into 2018

File Photo Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott speaks during a recent city council meeting.

WHEELING — Slowly but steadily, downtown Wheeling is becoming a place where one can work as a professional, live in a loft apartment and dine on locally raised meat and vegetables, all while sipping lattes in the morning and drinking craft beer in the evening.

Heading into 2018, city officials hope to continue the downtown resurgence, led by the anticipated full opening of The Health Plan headquarters early in the year.

“Our top priority is continuing the momentum of economic development that we are starting to see in and around the downtown business district,” Mayor Glenn Elliott said. “We feel that several historic rehabilitation projects would have happened in 2017 were it not for the uncertainty surrounding the state and federal historic tax credits.”

New Opportunities

In 2017, city leaders successfully lobbied the West Virginia Legislature to expand the state credit for historic preservation from 10 percent to 25 percent. After some fear the federal 20-percent credit would be eliminated in the recent Republican tax legislation, officials ultimately preserved the credit.

“That uncertainty is now gone, and we are hoping to help bring several projects to fruition in 2018,” Elliott said.

With about 50 people on a waiting list for the Boury Lofts apartment complex on Main Street, Elliott and Vice Mayor Chad Thalman said another developer is working on plans for about 100 apartments at the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel structure, which has towered over downtown Wheeling since 1905. The potential apartment complex could include the construction of a new parking garage on the west side of Market Street for use by those living in the apartments, although this is still in the planning stages.

It could cost $18 million to $20 million to repurpose the Wheeling-Pitt building’s 144,000-square-foot interior for residential space. Although this project is only in the preliminary stages, work to build more loft apartments is already ongoing at the Flatiron Building, the former Gerrero Music structure and the former Bill’s Hamburger building.

“More people living and working in and around our downtown will continue to result in more places to eat and shop downtown — and will help us position our central business district as the corporate hub of the upper Ohio Valley’s energy economy,” Elliott said.

“We are speaking with developers on a regular basis and I feel confident that all of Wheeling, and in particular our downtown, we continue to see a revitalization,” Thalman added.

A Potential Pitfall

Among the possible problems facing the city in 2018 is the likelihood of the GOP-led West Virginia Legislature targeting the Greyhound Breeding Development Fund for elimination once again. Elliott said the loss of this fund would jeopardize the future of Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack remaining in city limits.

If the casino would ultimately close or leave the city limits, this would significantly hurt Wheeling’s budget to the tune of about $1 million per year.

“If they were to leave city limits, we would have to make cuts elsewhere or raise taxes,” Thalman said.

“The Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack has particular significance to our tax rolls in ways that cannot be easily undone, in particular because of its inclusion in our existing tax increment financing district,” Elliott added. “And therefore, we would be remiss if we didn’t do everything in our power to try to keep it where it is.”

Ongoing Work

City leaders continue seeking redevelopment of several downtown structures they own, including 1425, 1429, 1433 and 1437 Market St. Contractors recently removed damaged portions on the rear side of these buildings, leaving both a pile of rubble in the alley and an exposed interior.

“I am under no illusions that these buildings are an easy project, but with the 20-percent federal and 25-percent state historic tax credits locked into place as of 2018, I feel that they remain a wonderful opportunity for a developer looking to exploit their Market Street retail frontage and fill the upper floors with apartments,” Elliott said of the city-owned structures.

“We have walked developers through the buildings — and while they are challenging buildings, the plan is to save them and get them developed,” Thalman added.

Meanwhile, on the east side of Market Street, city leaders in the fall voted to use $40,000 to demolish the former Kirk’s Art Supplies building, next to West Virginia Independence Hall, which has undergone significant roof failure.

“City council will have two readings of the demolition ordinance in January, and my understanding is that this will pave the way for demolition in early March or April. In the meantime, we are in discussions with a local contractor to try to save the ornate upper front facade of the structure,” Elliott said of the Kirk’s building.

Also, council recently voted to use $4 million worth of TIF revenue to upgrade the Center Wheeling parking garage as part of the effort to help California-based Alecto Healthcare Services operate Ohio Valley Medical Center.

“My understanding is that the earliest you would see work in the Center Wheeling garage is May or June,” Elliott said. “The current plans contemplate a two-year construction period with certain portions of the garage closed at various times.”