Keep Wheeling Options Open

City officials have overcome a major hurdle in their plan to build a sports complex in East Wheeling. On Monday, Judge Arthur Recht ruled the city can go ahead with eminent domain proceedings to obtain three parcels of land needed for the project.

Now – and at every stage of the project if it proceeds – city officials should be asking themselves whether the complex is the best, most important use of scarce resources available for economic development.

It has been estimated the project will cost about $2.5 million. To our knowledge, no source of funding is in place.

Assuming funds do become available – and that may be a big presumption – city officials should not take it as an automatic green light for the sports complex. As Mayor Andy McKenzie views it, the project would aid in economic development.

But it is not the only development plan in the works. For example, plans to acquire more property and raze buildings on it and others already owned by the city in the 1100 block of Main and Market streets are moving forward. What if money is needed to improve that project – or to capitalize on opportunities linked to it?

What if a deal to sell the Wheeling Nailers hockey team is contingent on a potential buyer’s demand for improvements at WesBanco Arena? Where would the money come from for that purpose?

And what if our region is chosen as the site for a natural gas “cracker” plant? Might that bring with it economic development opportunities, perhaps in new housing, for Wheeling?

Economic development often is a guessing game. But flexibility is a key to success. West Virginia legislators demonstrated that this week when they moved quickly to approve massive tax incentives meant to lure a cracker plant to the state.

Like any idea to improve the local economy, the sports complex needs to be considered in the context of a flexible overall strategy.

Because of that, city officials should be cautious in committing scarce resources to the complex – or any other project. Wheeling’s options should be kept open as long and as much as is practical.

Even spending money to acquire the three parcels under dispute – funding the city probably has available – may not be prudent unless municipal officials can identify to the public a source for the remainder of the $2.5 million needed. Again, there are several other pending or potential projects that may deserve priority.