Wheeling Secures Mountain East Conference Tournament

WHEELING — Calling it an exciting day for the city of Wheeling, Mayor Glenn Elliott, as well as several local dignitaries, officially welcomed the Mountain East Conference Basketball Tournament to WesBanco Arena, at a press conference held inside the redesigned concourse Tuesday.

The contract, which moves the event from Charleston — the only home the MEC has known — states the tournament will be held in Wheeling during the 2019 and 2020 seasons, with the league holding a third-year option for 2021.

“Hosting the MEC Basketball Tournament in Wheeling presents the city with great opportunity to build on the growing momentum in our community and adds another arrow in the quiver of making our downtown a destination for residents and visitors,” Elliott said. “It has been encouraging to see so many community partners work together to secure this bid.”

The Health Plan has stepped up to be the tournament’s presenting sponsor. President and CEO Jim Pennington is enthusiastic about the partnership.

“The Health Plan is thrilled to be a major partner in the MEC Championship Tournament. Bringing this event to Wheeling will certainly create a welcome level of excitement in a city that is coming alive again,” Pennington said in a statement. “We want to thank RED, Oglebay Resort and Conference Center, Wheeling Convention & Visitors Bureau, WesBanco Arena, the city of Wheeling, Mayor Glenn Elliott and the Ohio County Commission for all their hard work in helping to bring the tournament to Wheeling.

“It was truly a business collaboration of individuals who love the city and are eager to bring this tournament to the next level. We are looking forward to 2019.”

According to league commissioner Reid Amos, the process began about a year and a half ago with a phone call between him and Elliott.

“He personally came here to WesBanco Arena to reserve the required dates (March 6-10, 2019) so that Wheeling could be in a position to bid,” Amos noted.

Funding was the key component in bringing the tournament to Wheeling, but there were plenty of logistics that first needed to be worked out. As Amos alluded to, one of those was arena availability.

The Wheeling Nailers are WesBanco Arena’s prime tenant, and since their season takes place during that time, there was work to be done. Also, according to WesBanco Arena Executive Director Dennis Magruder, the Toughman, PBR and Monster Trucks — three of the highest-grossing events for the building annually — also needed moved.

“This was why this dimension was added. Obviously the building was tired, but in terms of the lobby, the new design and modernization, this was the plan in mind,” Magruder said. “You hope it’s not going to stop here … this is the first step.

“The Monster Trucks show is now out of February and moved to October. I can’t give enough credit to Jerry Thomas (of the Toughman).

“Jerry had contracts on the very dates that we needed for this tournament. When we sat down and explained to Jerry what it meant to the community and to the building, Jerry willingly became another partner and agreed to adjust his dates.”

Wheeling CVB, under the leadership of Executive Director Frank O’Brien, was another willing participant, and played a part in acquiring the rights to the tournament. He envisions a great partnership.

“This tournament is also a valuable event for the city of Wheeling in terms of economic factors. In 2017 the city of Charleston received an estimated $2 million in spending generated by hosting the Mountain East Conference Basketball Tournament. We believe the city of Wheeling, Ohio County and the our local business community will equal or exceed that impact because of our superior location and all the fans attending this tournament.”

It was hard for Magruder to hide his excitement, “I think you can compare this to the Super Six,” he said. “The same people who didn’t want the Super Six to come here originally, are now some of the strongest supporters. This will be a great event.”