Changing Wheeling Radically

If a proposed new comprehensive plan for Wheeling is approved, the key – as those who wrote the document stress – will be implementation. In other words, the plan can’t be just placed on a shelf and left to gather dust with other proposals that, during their times, were viewed as promising.

Implementation of development plans requires money, of course. The good news is that – to an extent – two keys to Wheeling’s future should have access to some capital in the future.

As a story on Page 1 of today’s newspaper points out, the proposed comprehensive plan relies heavily on development by the medical and educational communities in Wheeling. Once a center of heavy industry, the city has “evolved into a major medical and educational hub,” the plan’s writers note.

Well, yes. Look around you. Much of the big economic development during recent years has been by the two local hospitals and local colleges. Not long ago, a city official remarked that West Virginia Northern Community College had singlehandedly revitalized one area of downtown Wheeling.

So betting on continuing help from those sectors of the economy is smart.

And here’s the thing: WVNCC has done its part. There’s been talk of a major new development downtown by Wheeling Jesuit University, which already has helped out with its physical rehabilitation facility in the Stone Building. And while West?Liberty University already has a campus at The Highlands, a downtown presence would help both WLU and the city.

Another key to the comprehensive plan is housing. That’s a tougher nut to crack.

As the plan’s writers note, city officials need to find ways to make it more appealing – read “profitable” – for developers to build apartment units and houses downtown. They also need to make it easier – read “less expensive” – to rehabilitate historic old buildings. Bravo to those who suggested one way to do that would be to stop insisting century-old buildings meet modern building codes.

Another key to the plan is mass transit. Wheeling already has a bus service, but it needs to be made more appealing to the young professional class of people the city has to attract.

If there is a single sentence that sums up the contrast between Wheeling’s past and its future, it is on page 47 of the proposed plan, in which development of Wheeling Island is discussed. “Industrial uses should be prohibited,” the proposal reads.

Wow. Wheeling residents and officials just 50 years ago would have thought we’d lost our minds.

But the proposal – and others such as banning heavy truck traffic on some streets – is right on target.

The younger professionals Wheeling needs demand a very specific quality of life. They also want different opportunities, with entrepreneurship in the lead. Either we find ways to bring them here, or we continue to decline.

Some of the plan (the “green infrastructure” section, for example) may be somewhat controversial. But the overall goal, of maintaining historic buildings while, in effect, changing the culture of downtown Wheeling radically, is right on target.

Myer can be reached at: