Keep Momentum Up in Wheeling

Redevelopment is happening in downtown Wheeling, after years of stagnation. The question now is how to keep the momentum going in the right direction.

Dean Connors, a developer who talked about the business district in a story we published Tuesday, made it clear continuing progress will be up to the private sector. “It’s not the city’s responsibility to open restaurants, grocery stores or apartments,” he told our reporter. “It’s the responsibility of private entrepreneurs.”

That certainly is true, as we have noted for years. Despite ex-President Barack Obama’s entirely incorrect assessment of the economy, government doesn’t build things.

But it does have a role in economic development.

Here in Wheeling, that was made apparent by The Health Plan’s decision to build a new corporate headquarters facing Main Street. The site was made available by acquisition and demolition of old buildings there a few years ago by the city administration and council then in power.

Local government’s role in revitalizing downtown Wheeling is to make the district attractive — and to avoid placing roadblocks in the way of developers.

As Connors mentioned, several downtown buildings have been repurposed or are in that process. When local government has been involved, it has been as a facilitator, not an initiator.

Just five years ago, downtown Wheeling was a shell of its former self. Decay was apparent everywhere. Efforts to bring back the vibrant retail center that was present for generations failed miserably.

Once city officials began paving the way for a massive change, to an office/residential area, progress began picking up steam. Developers began seeing opportunities.

It is not inevitable that revitalization will continue. Any number of factors could slow or even reverse it.

City government’s role in keeping the momentum up is clear: It is to continue making the downtown area more attractive, sometimes by eliminating blighted buildings, while doing all in its power to make development easier for the private sector. That policy has worked — and can continue to do so.