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Planned Gateway Park Moving Ahead on Wheeling Island

File Photo by Eric Ayres - This property on the south side of the Suspension Bridge on Wheeling Island is being developed as part of the city’s Gateway Park project.

WHEELING — The state of West Virginia’s plan to rehabilitate the historic Wheeling Suspension Bridge is not the only project moving forward in connection with the Ohio River landmark.

A major project that had been in the planning phase for a site in the shadow of the Suspension Bridge — the city of Wheeling’s Gateway Park project on the riverfront banks of Wheeling Island — has recently moved ahead after being in a holding pattern for about two years and is set to move into its initial construction phase.

The city of Wheeling this month approved an ordinance authorizing City Manager Robert Herron to spend $409,950 with James White Construction Co. of Weirton for Phase 1 of the Wheeling Island and Gateway Project. The funds used for this first phase of the work will come from multiple sources, including $260,000 from the city’s RCIP (Restricted Capital Improvement Program) fund and $150,000 from the city’s Project Fund.

Overall, the Gateway Park project involves six phases of construction at a site adjacent to the Wheeling Island ramp of the Suspension Bridge. The cost of all six phases of the project was originally estimated to cost around $1.6 million, with some grant money and donated funds already in place for some phases of the work.

“We’re able to move forward with the park due to the generous donation from the Fitzsimmons family,” Wheeling Vice Mayor Chad Thalman said. “Not only will this park benefit Wheeling Island, but it will be clearly visible from Heritage Port and will enhance our waterfront.”

The Fitzsimmons Family Foundation had provided an initial $150,000 to jumpstart two of the six construction phases. Funds from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields grant program — including a $10,000 grant for site assessment — are also being used to move the project forward. Representatives from the EPA visited the site two and a half years ago, but not much had been done to propel this project forward until this month — which just so happened to be around the same time the state of West Virginia announced its plans to rehab the Suspension Bridge, which has been closed to vehicular traffic since 2019.

But the Gateway Park project is back on the front burner, city leaders said this week.

“There were two things that delayed it a little bit — one being COVID, and the other being the Suspension Bridge,” Herron said. “We thought that (construction crews) might have wanted to use that as (an equipment) laydown area. But they don’t want to use that location as a laydown area.”

Wheeling City Council’s action to move forward with the Gateway Park project Phase 1 happened to coincide with W.Va. Gov. Jim Justice’s announcement late last month that a $17.9 million contract had been awarded to Advantage Steel & Construction LLC of Butler County, Pa., for the long-awaited rehabilitation of the historic 1849 bridge.

The initial phases of the Gateway Park project are designed to begin developing the park area around the base of the Suspension Bridge on the Wheeling Island side.

“Phase 1 is the streetscape part on Front Street,” Herron explained. “Phase 2 will include the grassy area and a walkway down to the river. We’ve only funded Phase 1. But we’re going to participate with a Brownfields grant — because there’s a small tank that needs to be taken out at the site — as part of Phase 3.”

According to the Wheeling Gateway Park Master Plan, the overall project will include development of a history walk area, a terrace plaza with an an aesthetic shade structure, an overlook plaza with a view of the river and downtown Wheeling, green space landscaping, street rehabilitation, riverbank stabilization, river access, trails and other outdoor recreational features.

A detailed copy of the Wheeling Gateway Park Master Plan can be viewed on the city’s website at www.wheelingwv.gov.

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