$15M Public Safety Building Proposed for Wheeling

New Buildings Eyed to Rehabilitate City

Wheeling Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger

WHEELING –City police officers and firefighters could get a new headquarters for the first time in more than 40 years, if Wheeling voters approve a levy during the November election to fund the $15 million Public Safety Building for the north end of downtown.

When combined with the $20 million apartment complex planned at the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel building, in addition to approximately another $10 million for a new parking garage, the Friendly City could see $45 million worth of new or rehabilitated structures in just three projects between the Wheeling Tunnel and 12th Street during the next few years.

“The actual amount will, of course, depend on the cost of the building and what other revenue sources we are able to utilize,” Mayor Glenn Elliott said of the planned public safety structure. “What is important to note here is that the ultimate decision whether or not to go forward with this project will be placed in the hands of the voters.”

According to Elliott and Vice Mayor Chad Thalman, the new police and fire building would likely go in one of two locations, both of which the city owns: next to the Marsh Wheeling building in the 900 block of Main Street, or on the tiered parking lots in the 1000 block of Market Street.

“Placement of a public safety building on one of these two existing surface lots really only makes sense if we are able to build a new garage in the 1100 block of Market Street to accommodate the displaced parking — and, of course, help make the development of the Wheeling-Pitt. building possible,” Elliott said.

The Need

Police work has changed a great deal since the department moved into its headquarters at the City-County Building in 1959, while the demands on the fire department are different than at the 1976 opening of the Center Wheeling headquarters.

Elliott and Thalman said the current police headquarters is lacking in these areas: ∫ compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act; ∫ adequate bathroom facilities; ∫ training space; ∫ adequate space for meetings or evidence storage; ∫ enough storage space for riot gear and firearms; ∫ functional and secure rooms to conduct interviews with video and audio recording; ∫ sufficient room for desks and work areas; ∫ a locker room and workout area; ∫ a lunch room; and ∫ a secure area for parking cruisers.

If the new building comes to fruition, Thalman said the police department would likely keep some space at the City-County Building for use on days when officers would be participating in court proceedings with alleged criminals.

This would not be the case with the fire headquarters and the North Wheeling station, however. Elliott and Thalman said the city should be able to leave both of these locations.

“Vacating the existing (fire) headquarters on the east side of Market Street would free up a potential retail or restaurant location with considerable street frontage just north of Centre Market. For example, it’s not hard to imagine a potential brewery being drawn to such a location,” Elliott said.

Though the list of problems the fire department has with its current space is not as long as that of the police department, Elliott and Thalman said the firefighters need more space for hazmat, water rescue and EMS equipment.

The Big Picture

“We would like to see construction start as soon as possible,” Thalman said. “We would have to wait until at least November to see if the voters approve the building.”

Officials said they do not yet know the millage level of the planned levy, while they emphasize the $15 million price tag is only an estimate. They said the scope, square footage, number of floors, and other features of the building remain in the works, though Thalman said the structure would likely have indoor space to park at least six fire trucks.

While funds for the public safety structure would come through a levy, the city would lean toward using tax increment financing for the planned Market Street parking garage. TIF is a tool that allows governments to use property tax revenue to pay for improvements that lead to the increase in the property’s value.

“To the extent we would be able to replace one surface lot with a new, attractive, functional building and relocate parking capacity into a garage, we would be making downtown Wheeling more efficient,” Elliott said.

As for the planned Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel building project, Louisville, Ohio-based Coon Restoration and Sealants hopes to use state and federal historic preservation tax credits to help turn the city’s tallest building into a $20 million apartment tower.

“The Wheeling Pittsburgh Steel building project is contingent on our creating nearby garage space, and it makes a lot of sense to do so in the 1100 block where you can also accommodate the new parking demand from The Health Plan employees and the displaced parking from one of our surface lots where the public safety building would go,” Elliott added.