City Officials Goal: No Local Tax Money To Build ‘Gateway’ Park on Wheeling Island
WHEELING — With initial construction on a Wheeling Island Gateway Park set to begin later this year, the city plans to pay for the long-term project through state and federal grants and donations from local foundations.
Wheeling will use a $150,000 donation it received from the Fitzsimmons Family Foundation last month to kickstart initial construction on the park, Vice Mayor Chad Thalman said. Council currently has no intentions to use city taxpayer money to pay for the project, he said.
“The park will highlight one of the city’s most recognizable and historical structures, and due to the generous donation by the Fitzsimmons Foundation, this will happen at no expense to the taxpayer,” Thalman said.
The park, a plan for which was announced by the city Feb. 20, will be built adjacent to the Wheeling Suspension Bridge along South Front Street and celebrate the structure’s history.
“I’m really shooting for having construction going by fall,” Parks and Recreation Director Jesse Mestrovic said.
Mestrovic explained that the city’s next steps on the project involve pursuing grants and foundation donations, going through permitting processes for the park and working with a consultant on construction plans.
The master plan for the park, drafted by design firm GAI Consultants, lists 22 potential sources of grant funding, seven of which are most applicable to the project. One of the main grants Mestrovic plans to apply for is the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which would establish the site as a permanent public space, he said.
The master plan includes six construction phases for the park that total $1.9 million. The Fitzsimmons donation will cover all of phase one, a plaza to be built near the bridge, and part of phase four, improving the streetscape on South Front Street.
Thalman said one of the reasons the park was designed in phases was to allow the park to expand over the years as additional donations and grants become available.
“Master plans are designed to evolve,” Mestrovic said.
The master plan also allows the city to split construction on the park, half of which lies in the floodplain and half in the floodway. The floodway part of the park, adjacent to the Ohio River, requires more permitting because of the higher risk involved.
Currently, the city is working with the Environmental Protection Agency and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to secure a site assessment grant, Mestrovic said.
“Everything is positive that we’re going to receive that grant,” he said.
In addition to pursuing grants, the city will also continue to pursue local foundations that can donate to the project.
“In Wheeling we’re very grateful to have a lot of local foundations that everybody in the community benefits from,” Mestrovic said. “We’re pursuing different foundations and which one is more realistic for us to go after and support our plans.”
The six-phase plan for the park includes features such as walking trails, a history walk, a shaded plaza and a kayak and boat launch. Mestrovic said he’s excited for the opportunity to have an ADA-accessible kayak launch in Wheeling.
“It doesn’t exist in this pool on the Ohio River,” he said of the accessible launch. “That’s another element of more inclusion for our disabled folks.”
Moving forward, the city will continue to pursue funding for the Gateway Park and go through permitting processes before construction can begin. Mestrovic added that plans for the park function as a checklist.
“We’re going through all these things in that checklist for us to move forward with the process,” he said.