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Ruins of Former Island Roller Rink Remain Untouched

Photo by Scott McCloskey – A chain-link fence keeps people at a distance from what remains of the Exhibition Hall on Wheeling Island, near the casino. A fire burned away much of the structure on New Year’s Eve.

WHEELING — It’s been exactly 10 months since Wheeling residents received a different type of New Year’s Eve fireworks show, as 2019 ended with an inferno engulfing the old Exposition Hall near the Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack.

The charred skeleton of the unused building, which had one served as a rollerskating rink in the 1980s before its eventual conversion into a storage building for the nearby track, smoldered over the next few days. Days stretched into weeks, weeks into months, and now, on Halloween 2020, the building has remained untouched.

In a city that is working hard to re-make its image, the sight of a burned-out shell of a building that is visible from downtown and other points should be a high-priority issue.

Wheeling City Council member Ben Seidler said that reclamation or demolition of the site was not at the top of the ward’s priority list, though it was on his mind, as people had been asking about it over the course of the year.

“It’s not raised to the top of the priorities, with me,” Seidler, who lives on the north end of Wheeling Island, said. “It is something we need to address, but with all the other properties we’re focusing on first, that are in the middle of residential neighborhoods, it’s not at the top of the list.

“I’ve had a much heavier focus … on the properties that are intertwined with the residential properties. … At this point, I don’t really know anything about” plans for the structure.

Calls to Delaware North, which owns the Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack, and to the management staff of the casino, were not returned.

However, Wheeling Fire Chief Larry Helms said Delaware North has contracted with a company to raze the lot in the future, which is why the department had not taken action against them.

“They’re actually under contract to have it demoed,” Helms said. “That’s why we haven’t pursued a raze/repair on it, because they already signed a contract to have it demoed. I’m not 100 percent sure who they have … but I do know they have a contract in place already.”

An investigation carried out in the week after the blaze determined the fire to have been accidental in nature, starting in the south end of the building due to electrical issues. Video surveillance footage within the building showed electricity arcing just before the 911 calls came in to report the sight of flames, according to the Wheeling Fire Department.

Flames climbed high into the night as hoards of people gathered along nearby blocks and from across the Ohio River to watch as firefighters worked to combat the blaze, which was visible from as far away as Benwood. It took Wheeling fire crews around three hours to extinguish the fire, plus several hours after putting out hot spots. During this time, the Cumberland Trail Fire Department assisted the city by answering other emergency calls within the city. Helms, at the time, described the blaze as the biggest he’d seen in his career.

The building housed financial records and other documents for the casino. No one was injured in the blaze.

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