Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott Has Big Plans for Downtown
Mayor Sees Housing As Key to ‘Renaissance’
WHEELING –Mayor Glenn Elliott envisions a downtown in which one works in an office, lives in a loft apartment, buys locally grown vegetables and drinks freshly brewed craft beer, all while walking, cycling or taking an Uber ride between destinations.
The ambience doesn’t yet approach the “hipster” scene of Burlington, Vermont, or Portland, Oregon, but the progress continues.
Within a few years, the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel tower may feature 90 more loft apartments, while housing projects are also in the works for the Flatiron Building and the former Gerrero Music building.
Nearly two years into his four-year term which began in July 2016, Elliott knows there is still plenty of work to do. However, he said repurposing former industrial and retail buildings for residential use is the key to driving growth.
“A key focus thus far has been housing, and we see additional opportunities to rehabilitate the upper floors of some of the city’s historic structures into apartments. With enough people living downtown, the opportunities for developing first floor retail spaces will expand and hopefully help eradicate the many vacant storefronts still lining Main and Market streets,” Elliott said.
With the long waiting list for those seeking to live at the Boury Lofts at the corner of 16th and Main streets, as well as the successful Stone Center Lofts, the demand for housing in the downtown and Center Wheeling area seems clear.
This is especially true now that The Health Plan headquarters joins places of employment such as WesBanco Inc., Williams Lea Tag, Ohio Valley Medical Center and the Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe Global Operations Center.
“Developers recognize that there is a demand for urban living and no other city in the area has a better urban footprint than downtown Wheeling. We recognize that in order to attract more businesses, restaurants and stores to our downtown, we will first need people living close by to spend money at those establishments,” Vice Mayor Chad Thalman added.
Along with the Wheeling-Pitt. building project, other large and vacant downtown structures under consideration for loft apartments include the Absure Tower at the corner of 12th and Main streets, the former Columbia Gas building at the corner of 16th and Chapline streets, and the former Marsh Wheeling Stogies building near Interstate 70.
Work continues to remove the estimated 30 tons of paper left inside the 13-story Wheeling-Pittsburgh building when the company known as RG Steel went bankrupt in 2012. City officials are planning a 550-space parking garage, at a cost of approximately $10 million, to be built across the street from the planned apartment tower.
Food and Drink
Meanwhile, the presence of nearly 400 employees working at The Health Plan headquarters in the 1100 block of Main and Market streets presents a new stream of customers for area entrepreneurs. For example, a mid-day visit to Tito’s Sloppy Dogs, just to the north of The Health Plan on Market Street, can result in one standing in line for several minutes because of high demand.
Other downtown eateries, including Subway, DiCarlo’s Pizza and the Vagabond Kitchen, are also getting more business because of The Health Plan workers. Now, Mills Group Principal Architect Victor Greco hopes to open another restaurant on the lower levels of the 1107-1109 Main St. buildings, which are just across the street from the health care firm’s office.
Jodie Burnett, who works at The Health Plan, said she enjoys working in downtown Wheeling. The company relocated from St. Clairsville at the beginning of the year.
“I love it. My mom and dad worked in downtown Wheeling when I was a kid,” she said. “I hope it keeps growing and coming back.”
While taking a lunch break, Burnett made her way to Dave McFarland’s Mmm… Popcorn shop, located at 1057 Market St. Nearly three years after opening the popcorn stand, McFarland said he senses a positive vibe in downtown.
“It’s improving. There is a lot more energy with The Health Plan here,” he said. “Hopefully, we can keep it going.”
Last year, the Uber ridesharing service began operration in Wheeling, allowing those seeking transportation to use apps on their smartphones to call for rides. Also, bicyclists are now common throughout the downtown area.
Elliott said city officials continue working with the West Virginia Division of Highways on the extensive streetscaping project, which has now been in the works for more than one year. The multi-million-dollar plan calls for street paving on Main, Market and Chapline streets in the downtown area, as well as on some of the connecting streets between the Wheeling Tunnel and Wheeling Creek. There also will be new sidewalks along many streets.
“Plans are coming together for the state to begin work on the downtown streetscape project next year, and it is our hope that the finished product will be a much more attractive, pedestrian-friendly canvas that helps support future economic growth,” Elliott said.
Councilman Dave Palmer said the downtown atmosphere is moving in a positive direction. He looks forward to the streetscaping project, but hopes the public will be patient.
“Expect the unexpected. We find stuff underground all the time,” Palmer said in reference to abandoned infrastructure contractors may find beneath the street surface.
Palmer said one problem those living downtown face is the lack of a full-service grocery store. Although the Grow Ohio Valley gardening group is working to open a market at the Robert C. Byrd Intermodal Transportation Center, though this has yet to materialize.
“Right now, people have to drive, or walk, or take a bus to any grocery store,” Palmer said.
Council members acknowledge the days of major department stores and restaurants dominating downtown Wheeling are likely gone forever. Still, Elliott said he sees a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to encourage and influence the types of development that will fundamentally restore downtown Wheeling’s rightful place as the central hub of the Upper Ohio Valley.”
Thalman and Elliott said they do not foresee much demolition in the downtown area during the next several years.
“We are at the beginning of what I anticipate being a true Renaissance of our downtown,” Elliott added.