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Which Comes First?

Which needs to come first? The amenities or the customers?

Wheeling residents and local officials who may be asking themselves that question need not feel alone. It’s a dilemma faced by many towns and cities seeking to reinvent themselves.

Members of a special committee formed by Mayor Glenn Elliott are looking into the city’s housing needs. One preliminary conclusion seems to be that more middle-class housing opportunities are needed in Wheeling.

But a good start on upscale apartments already has been made in the downtown business district. Apartments at the Stone Center and soon, more at the Boury Lofts aren’t exactly developers dipping their toes in the water. They’re major investments.

More amenities such as a grocery store and new restaurants within easy walking distance of downtown housing are needed to attract more people to live there, it has been said.

Well, yes. But most savvy business people don’t like the idea of opening new stores, restaurants, etc., without some assurance a good customer base exists.

And that’s the big question: Are there enough potential customers downtown to justify investments in those amenity businesses? Should grand openings be put on hold until there are even more housing developments and more people? Or can that happen without the supporting businesses?

All good questions that someone needs to answer if progress in Wheeling is to continue.

If new businesses are to come to the downtown business district, they probably will be established by relatively small-scale entrepreneurs. Many of the big chains are cutting back, not expanding. If they open new stores, restaurants, etc., they want more of a sure thing.

Downtown Wheeling is not a sure thing. But take a look around the business district. Compared to a decade ago, it’s booming. Once the new Health Plan headquarters opens, the pace of growth will accelerate.

So here’s the question business people ought to be asking — remembering that the key to success is taking calucated risks: Things are picking up in downtown Wheeling. He or she who gets in on the ground floor may reap some really nice profits.

Do I want to be left behind?

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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