Mayor Glenn Elliott: Wheeling ‘Primed and Ready for the Future’
WHEELING — After a year of pandemic-related challenges in a city that remains under construction from almost every corridor, Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott on Tuesday declared the state of the city to be “primed and ready for the future.”
Elliott was joined by a room full of local dignitaries and residents Tuesday at Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack, where he delivered his fifth State of the City address.
The annual speech was Elliott’s first since being re-elected last year and the first since the COVID-19 pandemic sent life’s routines on a detour for everyone in the Friendly City and around the world.
Last year, Elliott delivered his State of the City address in late February, just a few weeks before the pandemic gripped the nation. The mayor expressed his gratitude to be speaking before a crowd of people instead of “on some Zoom call” like so many socially distanced interactions in 2020.
“To be honest, I was not sure if I would have this opportunity,” Elliott told the crowd. “Much has changed in 17 months since we last gathered in this forum to celebrate our shared fondness for the city of Wheeling.”
Sticking to the format of previous State of the City events, much of the mayor’s speech focused on recognizing individuals and organizations that made a positive impact on the city over the past year — or in some cases, over many years or even a lifetime.
Serving the city for 36 years in many different capacities — including tenures as city manager and vice mayor — Mike Nau was named recipient of this year’s Gateway Award, recognizing past contributions that have truly “helped move the needle forward in this community,” according to the mayor. From revitalizing key downtown areas to developing Heritage Trail, the city took great steps to move in a new direction during Nau’s time in office in the wake of an era when industrial decline and a retail exodus left Wheeling at a crossroads.
Honoring those who have made significant contributions to the city over the past year, the mayor gave recognition to two men who took lead roles on the front lines of the area’s efforts to weather the storm through the COVID-19 pandemic. Wheeling-Ohio County’s Health Department Administrator Howard Gamble and Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency Director Lou Vargo were honored for their service during the unprecedented health crisis.
“From the beginning, those of us in public office looked to both Howard and Lou for guidance,” Elliott said. “Tough decisions were inevitable, but looking back, I believe our community was served very well by these two gentlemen.”
The crowd was asked to pause for a moment of silence to remember the 90-plus local residents whose lives were taken by the virus. Taking the heaviest tone of the address, Elliott spoke sternly about adults in the community who without special circumstances have gone against scientific consensus and remain unvaccinated.
“You are putting our community at risk not only of more COVID-19 deaths, but also future shutdowns,” Elliott said. “Is there anyone here today who wants to see another governor’s order shutting everything down? I know that I emphatically do not.”
Although the pandemic took the wind out of the local economy over the past year, Elliott noted that the re-emergence from COVID has brought with it more public and private investment than the Wheeling area has seen in more than a century. He tallied roughly $400 million worth of recent or current public projects in the greater Wheeling community on the books.
From the $215 million Interstate 70 bridge replacement project to the coming $35 million Wheeling Streetscape Project and the $76 million district-wide building improvements by the Ohio County Schools, public investments are currently at a lifetime high, the mayor noted.
“What gives me an even greater hope for the future of this city is both the actual and imminent private investments taking place right before our eyes,” Elliott said. “Any way you look at it, Wheeling is — right now — a city being rebuilt before our very eyes.”
Elliott recognized several other community leaders for their contributions to Wheeling. He also touted projects that are being made possible by funds generated by the city’s “dreaded user fee,” as well as improvement proposals being eyed by the newly revitalized Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Economic and Industrial Development.
“Lastly, a common complaint we receive on city council is that Wheeling just does not get the same caliber of music and comedy shows that it did in the 1980s,” Elliott said, noting that conversations are taking place with local and regional promoters to explore new ways to finance these shows and help offset some of the risks associated with brining bigger acts to the area. “The idea currently on the cable is an Entertainment Endowment Fund that is funded and managed jointly by the city and CVB (Convention and Visitors Bureau). So many details remain to be finalized, but stay tuned for an exciting discussion in the months ahead.”
Other honorees recognized during the Wheeling 2021 State of the City address by the mayor included:
– Dr. Michael Linger, executive director of the House of Carpenter;
– Jeff Mauck, longtime member of the Wheeling Planning Commission;
– Ellen Gano, founder of Volunteer Wheeling, who received the 2021 Community Spirit Award;
– The Men of Change, a new organization aimed at mending divisions in the community through youth mentorship, economic empowerment, political literacy and health initiatives;
– Ray Carney, for contributions to North Wheeling of acquiring 30 properties, rehabbing those that could be saved and demolishing those that were compromised;
– Doug Costain, for years of service with organizing youth baseball activities in the community; and
– Susie Nelson, executive director of The Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley.