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Planned Lofts Big Plus for Wheeling

It’s only two weeks into the new year, and city officials in Wheeling should call an abrupt end to 2021. Right now, it doesn’t appear as if things can get much better with two major announcements already taking place.

We reported earlier this month on the proposal by Bluefield State College to utilize a portion of the former Ohio Valley Medical Center for an engineering program, which could bring several hundred students to Center Wheeling.

That was followed a few days later by a project that city leaders and developer Steve Coon have been working to announce for nearly three years: redevelopment of the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. downtown headquarters, the Schmulbach Building on Market Street, into loft apartments.

The new complex will be known as the Historic Wheeling-Pitt Lofts, and will include 128 market-rate apartments. The building is owned by Dr. John Johnson — he also recently purchased the former East Ohio Regional Hospital in Martins Ferry and is preparing to reopen that facility — and will require a $30 million investment to rehabilitate.

Located in the heart of downtown, Johnson and Coon also plan to purchase the building just north of the Wheeling-Pitt building and also redevelop the former Chris Miller Furniture story, which currently is owned by the Regional Economic Development Partnership. The goal, according to Coon, is not just to rehabilitate the building but also to turn that area into a “downtown neighborhood.”

“Once we create it, it’s just going to grow and expand. Once we start connecting the dots, we’re going to have a very, very viable downtown,” Coon said, noting the work could be done in summer 2021.

Mayor Glenn Elliott said the project validates what he and city council have worked to do over the past four years. “If you have historic buildings downtown and across your community, you don’t tear them down, you try to save them at any cost and make them contribute.”

Taxpayers will have to build a new, 300-space parking garage near the structure. The city already has purchased the former Chase Bank property at the corner of 11th and Market streets just for that purpose.

Just how the parking garage proposal will come together remains to be seen; however, we urge the city to be open with the public on all matters pertaining to the structure so that there is not a deal struck as nearly happened a few years back. That deal would have seen taxpayers build a garage across from the Wheeling-Pitt Building at close to $30,000 per space, with the city leasing the land before turning the structure over to the property’s owners, thus sticking taxpayers with a big bill.

There are still many questions to be answered with the garage, but overall the deal, as it stands now, looks positive for the city. We commend Johnson, Coon, Elliott and council for their work on this project, and urge them to remain open with the public moving forward.

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