By Steve Novotney
It was once a true statement. It might still hold true today for some.
“There’s nothing to do in Wheeling,” remains a criticism voiced these days on social media, local radio stations, and on public comment websites, but the frequency has dwindled during the past decade thanks to the efforts of many within the city.
And it’s not been easy.
The Friendly City has certainly changed in many ways over the past few decades, and decline has been a constant. Population loss has led to business loss, and economic trends of the 1970s all but emptied downtown Wheeling.
In fact, for several years one could not purchase a pair of socks in downtown Wheeling until the CVS Pharmacy added the item to an aisle a few years ago.
But the efforts of Wheeling Convention and Visitors Bureau, the city of Wheeling, the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corp., the Regional Economic Development Partnership, West Liberty University, Oglebay Institute, and many “community players” have produced significant changes. These folks and organizations created events like First Friday, Party on the Patio, Show of Hands, and the Pitch Contest, and an increase has been realized in the options for live and local music, gallery openings, sporting events, art exhibits, recreational facilities, and local eateries and theatre.
The turning point was winning the controversial wrestling match for the Capitol Theatre. But on April 3, 2009, the Wheeling Convention and Visitors Bureau closed on the property for $617,000. During the five years that have followed, much rehabilitation has taken place, including the upgrading of all the fire suppression systems and the construction of a fire escape, as well as the installation of new seating, lighting, sound system, concession area, and restrooms.
It has allowed people in Wheeling to dream again.
Local attorney Glenn Elliott’s purchase of the Professional Building along Market Street; the opening of the Vagabond Kitchen in the McLure Hotel by Matt and Katie Welsch; the current structure rehabilitation on 14th and Chapline streets of the building that once housed the former Fort Henry Club; the multi-million dollar makeover of the Kaley Tower, formerly the Riley Building; and the demolition of seven buildings within the 1100 block that has presented the downtown district potential for the first privately funded construction project since 1982.
And that’s just in the downtown area. Citizens in all six of the city’s council wards started neighborhood associations, and preservationists have purchased many historic buildings throughout the city’s 15 square miles in hopes of saving gems long forgotten by the most recent owners.
Think there’s nothing to do?
Visit the Calendar portion of the website. One of Weelunk’s goals is to offer the most complete calendar for the area and incoming visitors. If there’s nothing there of interest, please step forward and make a suggestion and join the people who are fighting for the future of Wheeling.