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Team, City Depend Upon Each Other for Business

March 28, 2012
By J.W. JOHNSON JR. Staff Writer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING - To hear Tim Roberts tell it, hockey is the perfect metaphor for life: when you get knocked down, you have to get back up and keep fighting.

Roberts also was quick Tuesday to compare that attitude with the city of Wheeling, which he said has been knocked down its fair share of times.

"The city of Wheeling and the whole area really has been through tough economic times," Roberts said. "But you learn through hockey to pick yourself back up and look at the positives."

Article Photos

Will Turani, president of the board of directors for the Regional Economic Development Partnership, speaks at the press conference. RED partnered with WAHA to purchase the Wheeling Nailers on Tuesday.

The positives were on display Tuesday when it was announced the Nailers would be staying in Wheeling through a joint venture of the Wheeling Amateur Hockey Association and the Regional Economic Development Partnership. Will Turani, president of the RED board of directors, said despite the organization being involved in several major development opportunities in Ohio, Wetzel and Marshall counties, members thought the Nailers deal was unique.

"This is important to our plan of focusing on Wheeling as a city center," Turani said. "When trying to bring in development to the area, we are lucky to be able to point to things like Oglebay and Wheeling parks, the waterfront and now the Wheeling Nailers as examples of the quality of life in this area."

Turani said the staff at RED put in lots of overtime the past several weeks to determine if the project was feasible and what could be done to seal a deal quickly.

"Our expertise is not managing hockey teams," he said. "We worked hard to be informed enough to make an educated decision, and we decided we could handle the financial part if WAHA could handle management."

For local business and city officials, news of the agreement was greeted with relief and optimism that the renewed community support and interest will help economically. Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie said keeping hockey at WesBanco Arena not only saves at least 30 in-house jobs, but also has the potential to create work at local businesses.

"I'd say half of the people who come to games are from neighboring counties, and that brings dollars into the city," he said. "If those people are having dinner downtown and then stopping for a drink or food after the game, that can create spinoff employment and really help."

The economic impact already has been felt by the McLure Hotel in downtown Wheeling, which works with the Nailers to house opposing teams and their fans. Cindy Johnson, manager of the hotel, said 40 of the hotel's 170 rooms are already booked for this upcoming weekend's final regular-season game.

"Our guests are able to leave the hotel, have dinner, go to the game, stop somewhere afterwards and then come back for the night, and they can do all of that in a four-block radius," she said. "We are so glad they are staying."

Johnson said after learning the team was for sale, she contacted representatives with the team and offered them words of encouragement. Having gone through four changes in ownership while managing the hotel, she said she knew what the organization was going through.

"When a sale like that is happening, you don't really know your future," she said. "I told them there are better days ahead, and that is where we are now."

For Roberts, keeping the Nailers in Wheeling is vital to maintaining what the city has to offer.

"As someone who didn't grow up here, I don't remember 40 years ago when downtown was booming," he said. "But I still see Wheeling as a good place to live and do business, and I wouldn't go anywhere else."

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