Mayor Offers Optimistic View of Wheeling’s Future
WHEELING — Mayor Glenn Elliott looked to Wheeling’s past, present and hopes for its future Tuesday during his fourth State of the City address, but he proposed that a true assessment of the state of the city — particularly when envisioning the future — really is a matter of perspective.
Whether that outlook is a pessimistic one or an optimistic one depends on the eye of the beholder, the mayor noted. While neither viewpoint may be clearly right or wrong, the path to a bright future is much more accessible when you can see a way to overcome obstacles and challenges instead of dwell on how they may derail you, he indicated.
“Feelings about the future are inherently subjective,” Elliott said. “For what it’s worth, while I personally side with the optimists, I do not believe the pessimists are necessarily wrong. We each sometimes see what we want to see through the prism of our own experiences.
“I suppose it all depends on who you ask. But because I am standing before you today with a microphone, I’m going to state for the record that I believe the future of Wheeling looks very bright, and the state of our city is indeed very strong.”
Elliott spoke before a packed showroom Tuesday afternoon at the Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack. The mayor recognized city officials and staff members for their efforts, and presented several awards to community leaders and organizations that help make Wheeling a better place.
According to the mayor, measuring the actual state of the city requires putting a gauge on three key factors: the local economy, the people and organizations comprising the community, and the collective feelings people have for its future. He said the full spectrum of opinions about the city range from “the sky is falling” to “the sky is the limit.”
In terms of the economy, Elliott said Wheeling is seeing a significant increase in revenues from the city’s B&O tax collection, sales tax collection and building permit fees. He noted that the Wheeling metropolitan area recently was recognized by Bloomberg News as ranking fifth in the nation in per capita personal income growth since 2016.
The mayor said job opportunities in the area are growing to the point where the trend needs to end of young professionals and skilled workers leaving for greener pastures outside the Ohio Valley.
Beyond job opportunities, cities also must meet quality-of-life expectations of the 21st Century workforce, Elliott said, noting that Wheeling is focused on doing just that.
“We’ve made great strides improving our network of city parks, playgrounds and trails,” he said. “We have emphasized the need for adding more market-rate housing units in the vacant floors of downtown buildings. We helped bring Uber and Lyft to Wheeling. … The evidence is clear: younger workers are choosing where they want to live first and where they want to work second. Cities that do not focus on quality-of-life issues are being left behind.”
Elliott said when he thought he was done writing his State of the City speech, he opened the most recent Sunday News-Register and found a “homework assignment” from Executive Editor Mike Myer in an editorial suggesting topics he should address. In response, the mayor provided updates on three major projects underway in the city: the development of a new Public Safety Building for police and firefighters, a proposed parking structure to support redevelopment of the Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Building and the downtown streetscape project.
Progress on the Public Safety Building currently is in a holding pattern while city officials await results of an environmental analysis of a 3.5-acre site at 19th and Jacob streets. A report on this study will help the city determine whether this site will be considered for a new building. The city has also requested $1 million in federal brownfields assistance for that site. While other locations are being considered, there could be a significant cost savings if any hazards at the site could be abated.
“Nobody on this city council would ever contemplate putting our first responders at risk at an contaminated site that has not been fully abated,” the mayor said. “To the contrary, it is the deplorable condition of our existing first responder facilities that has driven this initiative since its inception.”
Elliott said the city is exploring the possibility of erecting a parking structure with approximately 300 spaces on the site of the former Chase Bank building and a lot at 11th and Market streets. This will accommodate needs for a proposed redevelopment of the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel building and expected workforce increased in the Stone Center.
“If the Wheeling-Pitt project happens, it would be the largest investment in the history of downtown Wheeling,” Elliott said. “It’s important not to underestimate the effect that saving downtown’s only skyscraper with that size of an investment could have on the local economy.”
The anticipated cost of the downtown streetscape project has grown from $8.7 million to roughly $25, the mayor noted. More complex engineering issues have been among the factors that have driven up the cost, but the project will move forward with good news about the project expected to come by way of an announcement in the coming weeks.
“There is light at the end of the Wheeling Tunnel,” Elliott said. “When this project is completed, it will be the most significant facelift for downtown Wheeling since 1980. Stay tuned.”
In assessing the state of the city by way of examining the people and organizations that help Wheeling move forward, the mayor recognized several honorees during his speech. They included:
* Hydie Friend, 4th Annual Gateway Award, former executive director of Wheeling National Heritage Area Corp., honored for for her many years of service to the community working on several renovation projects from Centre Market to the bike trail, Veterans Memorial Amphitheater, Capitol Theatre and many more.
* Jay Frey, Community Spirit Award, chairman of the Wheeling 250 Committee, for helping to bring pride to the community through service, generosity “and a general love of Wheeling,” particularly for the year-long celebrate of the city’s 250th anniversary in 2019.
* Lou W. Nau, Inc., celebrating the 100th anniversary of its third-generation family business this year.
* Grow Ohio Valley’s Public Market, for “thinking outside the box” and bringing a year-round, non-profit farmers market offering healthy foods to people of all walks of life in the city and reinvigorating the downtown area inside the Intermodal Center.
* Dr. Jeanne Finstein, for decades of service as the face of Freinds of Wheeling, chairing the board of Wheeling Heritage and a subcommittee of Wheeling 250, co-founding the NASA Classroom of the Future and making various contributions to the community from public education to historic building rehabilitation.
* Jim Bordas, founder of the Bordas & Bordas law firm in Wheeling, for leaving a legacy that “continues to resonate” not only through his business but also through his philanthropy and contributions to the greater Wheeling area and beyond.
* Youth Services System, for addressing the needs of children, families and adults it serves to help make a brighter future for the local community.
* Augusta Levy Learning Center for its “unwavering efforts to counteract the effects of autism in the greater Wheeling area.
* Ron Scott Jr., chairman of the Performing Arts Committee of the Wheeling Arts & Cultural Commission and founder of the African American Students Association, for his “tireless efforts to enrich the culture of our community.”
* Gail ‘Boatsie’ VanVranken, namesake of the Boatsie’s Boxes project that provides holiday care packages for military men and women stationed abroad, with volunteers participating from all 50 states.
This was the 11th State of the City address to be delivered in Wheeling. Elliott, who is running for re-election this year, acknowledged in his opening introduction that there was no guarantee he would be delivering another one.
“This is my fourth — and perhaps, final — opportunity to speak to you as mayor for this event,” he said. “Nevertheless, it remains my distinct honor and privilege to do so.”