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Bring Spending Under Control

A plan to spend upwards of $17 million in taxpayers funds to build a new parking garage in downtown Wheeling should raise eyebrows — not simply because the city, and not private investors, are funding this project at the corner of Market and 11th streets, but because the garage’s price tag has gone up by more than one-third in just a few short years.

It was in 2018 when Wheeling City Council began discussions on building a parking garage at that corner to service the planned rehabilitation of the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel headquarters into loft apartments and also downtown workers at businesses such as The Health Plan and Williams Lea. When first introduced, the garage was estimated to cost $11 million; now, three years later, that cost has ballooned to $17 million.

Council heard first reading of an ordinance Tuesday to finance the parking garage through the issuance of lease revenue bonds. The bond issue is not to exceed $19.5 million — just in case the project goes up in cost a few million more.

City leaders promised the garage so that Access Infrastructure, the company rehabilitating the Wheeling-Pitt building, could proceed with its $30 million investment into what will become the Historic Wheeling-Pitt Lofts.

Along with parking, the ground level of the new garage — which will be located on the lot that now holds the former Chase Bank, and the empty lot to its north — will include space for future retail development.

To be clear, the rehabilitation of the Wheeling-Pitt building into loft apartments is a win not only for downtown, but for all of Wheeling. It is the tallest downtown structure, and letting it fall further into disrepair would simply have been irresponsible.

However, on the city’s end, the spending truly needs to be put in check. Between overpaying for a junk building on 19th Street, to purchasing the former Ohio Valley Medical Center, to building a new police and fire headquarters, to spending $6 million more for a parking garage … the city is mortgaging millions upon millions right now — money that is coming from your pocket and your paycheck.

We understand the city has plenty of money flowing into its coffers right now from the various COVID-19 rescue plans and from various bond issues to fund the numerous projects underway, but does council really have spend it all as quickly as possible? The increase in the garage’s cost from $11 million to $17 million hasn’t raised a single question from a member of council. It’s safe to say that to them, with the money floating around right now, $11 million in 2018 is equivalent to $17 million in 2021.

Who would have guessed?

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