With Ground Not Yet Broken, Tab for New Wheeling Island Park Tops $115K

Photo by Casey Junkins Wheeling officials have spent a total of $115,500 to acquire and design plans for this property, just south of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge on Wheeling Island.

WHEELING — City officials are paying a Charleston-based firm $24,500 to design a Wheeling Island park in the Ohio River flood plain, a cost which is in addition to the $91,000 taxpayers spent for the lot last year.

This means the city has already spent $115,500 for less than one acre of land along the river which, at this point, is nothing but grass and mud.

Nevertheless, Mayor Glenn Elliott and Vice Mayor Chad Thalman urge residents to consider the lot’s location, which is directly adjacent to the Wheeling Suspension Bridge — a National Historic Landmark since 1975. They plan to use the lot to create a park that will help promote the legendary bridge as a tourist attraction.

“The Suspension Bridge is as much a part of Wheeling’s history as is any other surviving physical structure, and a public park adjacent to it creates a wonderful opportunity to celebrate, interpret, and showcase the bridge’s history,” Elliott said. “Obviously, city funds are limited, and we do not have the luxury of taking every idea and running with it. But when this property became available, we felt that it was too important an opportunity to pass up.”

The recently formed Wheeling Waterfront Enhancement Committee is studying potential upgrades to the Heritage Port area on the downtown side of the river.

Now, after making a public request for plans, the city hired Charleston-based GAI Consultants at a cost of $24,500 to design the new park on Wheeling Island.

Wheeling Director of Parks and Strategic Planning Jesse Mestrovic said every effort will be made to create a nexus between the new park, the bridge and Heritage Port. For example, if a tourist comes in to visit the bridge and the park, they could see a festival that is taking place at Heritage Port.

“The Suspension Bridge is a National Historic Landmark and probably the most recognizable feature of the city. The park will not only highlight the bridge but will also be viewable from downtown,” Thalman said.

To help fund the park, Mestrovic is seeking a grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is administered by the National Park Service. He said if the federal government approves the city’s application, the grant will match the city’s expenditures on the park, dollar-for-dollar.

“We haven’t decided how much money to spend on the park. The consultants have been asked to design the park in phases,” Thalman said when asked how much the park may ultimately cost.

“We are very hopeful that our consultants working with Jesse Mestrovic will be able to come up with a plan that is attractive, affordable, practical for location in a flood plain, and, perhaps, feasible in stages,” Elliott added.

Thalman also pointed out that Heritage Port is also in the flood plain.

“I doubt there are many people who think that Heritage Port never should have been built due to being in the flood plain,” he said. “Our river and (Wheeling Creek) are assets that we should be embracing and making one of the centerpieces of development.”

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