What Should Wheeling Bring Back From The Past?

The past. The past. The past. The past.

Over and over again people have concentrated only on the history of the Friendly City instead of on Wheeling’s future. Those “good ol’ days” or “back in the day” often are recalled with stories of the crowded downtown streets, the trolley-car rides, the nails and steel and glass and toys and the Big Boys built by this Valley, and, of course, Betty Zane’s historical run for gunpowder.

There were more people, so there was more stuff like the drive-ins, restaurants, neighborhood taverns, larger Little Leagues, retail stores, bowling alleys, kids on bicycles, and living-wage jobs. Wheeling has been a different city throughout her history, one that happily grew in population from the late 1890s through the 1950s, and one that voted down a downtown mall development in the late 1960s.

Motorists approaching downtown Wheeling via Interstate 70 westbound have plenty of travel options before Wheeling Tunnel.
Motorists approaching downtown Wheeling via Interstate 70 westbound have plenty of travel options before Wheeling Tunnel.

And yet still this is a city that continues to anchor the Upper Ohio Valley with the best doctors, the top attorneys, the most popular restaurants, headlining entertainment, premiere outdoor recreation, and professional hockey.

But the people of Wheeling, despite the challenges involved with Rust Belt realities, possess a renewed optimism with members of all generations participating with piecing together a puzzle many hope resembles a truly revitalized city. How to accomplish that goal is a constant conversation, and perhaps a portion of it does involve the municipality’s past.

Once again many of Wheeling’s current city council members joined filed candidates in answering the following question that directly pertains to the past, the present, and the Friendly City’s future. Their replies to the following inquiry are listed alphabetically, from back to front.

What one “thing” from Wheeling’s past that has since gone away for whatever reasons do you feel citizens and council members should make efforts to return to somewhere in the city?

Brian Wilson, Candidate, Ward 3:

Wheeling is evolving. For the first time in 40 years we have new and returning residents intentionally calling our city their home. These residents are bringing their ideas, businesses, skills, families, and insights from other parts of the country, but with those things they are also bringing some friendly critiques. The one critique that I hear frequently refers to our approach to public transportation.

Our city used to be filled with streetcars, buses, trollies, taxis, and I’ve even heard rumors of long-ago pedicabs. There is an overwhelming national trend right now regarding “city walkability.” It seems to be on the mind of every professional person that wishes to live or work in an urban environment. The overall idea is simple: When healthy and reliable transportation is in place, we see people walking and biking to and from transportation hubs. With increased foot traffic comes increased business development. With added business development comes an increasing number of people, and before you know it, you’ve got a vibrant city.

The parking meters in Centre Wheeling are being painted this weekend thanks to a project initiated by the Wheeling Arts and Cultural Commission.
The parking meters in Centre Wheeling are being painted this weekend thanks to a project initiated by the Wheeling Arts and Cultural Commission.

I believe that our regional bus authority is reliable, affordable, and does a great job altogether, but I also think that it is time to look at it in new light. Let’s put some bicycle racks on the front of the bus and have a smartphone app with the bus schedule available. Let’s add some additional stops and later-running hours incrementally. If perhaps these demands are too extreme, it may be time for a privately owned bus line to supplement. I also think Wheeling would see long-term benefits from quality taxi lines and taxi-alternatives such as Uber (where individuals offer their private vehicle as an impromptu taxi service. Visit www.Uber.com for more details).

To make my point, the idea of living without relying solely on your own vehicle is attractive again, just as it was when Wheeling was overflowing with public transportation. We need to be able to meet that demand if we wish to continue attracting new residents and Wheeling ex-pats alike.

Chad Thalman, Candidate, Ward 1:

What I would like to see brought back to Wheeling is more events in the Capitol Theatre and Wesbanco Arena. We are extremely lucky to have these two structures in our downtown and I would like to see them used more.

The Capitol is not only the largest theatre in West Virginia, it is also incredibly beautiful and historic. Wesbanco Arena has and is receiving millions of dollars in renovations, and it is something we should be proud of in Wheeling. I think there is a desire among people in the Ohio Valley to attend quality shows and events and see nationally recognized entertainers and performers in downtown Wheeling. Not only do these events give the citizens of Wheeling something to do, but they also help to stimulate the local economy by causing people to come downtown and spend money at a bar or restaurant before and after the show.

The 37th annual "Oglebayfest" was held last weekend.
The 37th annual “Oglebayfest” was held last weekend.

I would also like to see some of our parks brought back to life. The Wheeling Park Commission does an outstanding job with Oglebay and Wheeling parks, and I would like to see the city focus more attention on bringing the smaller “pocket parks,” which are scattered throughout every neighborhood in the city, back to life. I’d like to see the city parks modernized and updated. The city does a good job scheduling bands in Garden Park for “Toe Tappin Tuesdays” in the summer, but Garden Park has a handball wall that probably hasn’t been used since the 1970s. This is something I would like to see removed so we can install something more modern that kids and adults want to use nowadays.

Wendy Scatterday, Candidate, Ward 4:

Something Old, Something new: The Welcome Wagon & Crappy Dinners.

Wheeling is a place that is friendly and welcoming even in 2015. The people who call Wheeling home have a rich history of creating and weaving together a strong community of people who are engaged in each other’s lives and extend ourselves to others on a regular basis. Some of that ease of connectedness is a result of many folks having known each other for many years, perhaps whole lifetimes and certainly as a result of familial relations. As time has gone on, however, the tradition of the “welcome wagon” has fallen by the wayside mostly because of everyday busyness.

Often for a newcomer to Wheeling it is not as easy to connect with and “get plugged in to” the networks of friends, families, schools, churches, and other civic entities that already exist. It can even be true for someone from Wheeling who finds themselves in a new work situation or neighborhood.

I received some great advice when I moved into my own home in Woodsdale. It was an area of my growing up neighborhood where I had not lived before, so in this case I actually did not know ANY of my closest neighbors. The advice I was given was a response to the busyness we all live now. My friend said, “When you get moved in, first thing, GO MEET YOUR NEIGHBORS. Nowadays, people don’t do what they used to do when someone moved onto their street. They used to go greet the newcomers, even bring a covered dish or cookies to welcome the folks who just moved in.”

The people who worked in downtown Wheeling in the 1970s and 1980s didn't notice much illegal activity taking place, but Burgoyne says that's because they grew used to the Wheeling mob's activities.
The people who worked in downtown Wheeling in the 1970s and 1980s didn’t notice much illegal activity taking place, but Burgoyne says that’s because they grew used to the Wheeling mob’s activities.

My friend went on to explain, “Now, you’ll have to do the reverse. When you move into a new neighborhood, you need to go introduce yourself to the neighbors near you. AND you have to do it within the first two-three weeks of being there because after that, it’s just weird to go around door-to-door after the time has passed.”

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So I did just that. I was having a house-warming party, so I went door-to-door to invite my new neighbors a few doors up and down and a few across and behind my home. Most were home, so I got to meet them, some not, and all but a few actually came to the party. It was some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten as all of those neighbor relationships still go on strong today. I am grateful for the advice, and that I stepped out beyond my comfort zone to extend myself. It isn’t the easiest thing to do, however.

This is where bringing back the official “Welcome Wagon” comes in, ‘Something Old’. In the past, life was different, less distracted and fragmented, and folks were also home more often. We all know how it works. We used to welcome new folks who might be uncomfortable and unfamiliar in a new place with a friendly smile, an introduction, an offer of help or future help, sharing of information, and a basket of goodies in all forms. That tradition has gotten squeezed out unfortunately, but there are actually some folks in Wheeling right now working on reforming just such an effort so stay tuned!

And then sign up to be a part of The Welcome Wagon, revamped, updated, and super user friendly for today’s life at high pace.

Lastly, the “Something New” — Crappy dinners. Invite people over for a Crappy Dinner. People you know well, and people you don’t know so well, but soon will! The idea is that connecting with people over a not so fancy meal is way more important, than getting it all together for that one time when your house is clean and life is in order, because when does that day ever show up on the calendar? Some of the other’rules of Crappy Dinners are that the menu must be simple and not involve a special grocery trip, you must wear whatever you happen to have on, and no hostess gifts allowed. Read more here: http://www.mothering.com/articles/host-crappy-dinner-see-friends-often/ I’m looking forward to hosting some Crappy Dinners. Invite me to yours!

David Palmer, Candidate, Ward 6:

I believe the ONE thing I would like to see brought back to Wheeling is our identity as the “Friendly City.”

I believe somewhere along the way we have lost this identity, and I would like to see it return. Let’s drop the negativity, quit complaining, and do something positive for a fellow citizen, group, or organization. This is who we are.

"Passages: Peggy's Park" is an art project taking place in the 1100 block of the downtown district.
“Passages: Peggy’s Park” is an art project taking place in the 1100 block of the downtown district.

Jeremy Morris, Candidate, Ward 2:

The big idea from the past that should be revived for Wheeling is both simple and complex. I am done with silver bullets; we need to treat every project as a silver bullet. Let’s make downtown work again; it should be as relevant to everyone in the community as it used to be.

We need to address the aesthetics of downtown. We need to address transportation issues. Downtown should be pretty, but it is not at this point, and that is a problem. It should be functional, and that is a problem. As I look at downtown from the perspective of access to transportation, to food, and grocery stores, we don’t have it figured out yet. We are getting there; we have the right group of people concerned about these issues waking up every morning working on this, but it is a work in process and will always be. The good thing is now a great group of people is paying attention to our downtown in ways that hasn’t been done in years prior.

David Miller, Council member, Ward 4:

Although I definitively believe that Wheeling has rebounded, I think downtown Wheeling can continue to rebuild and become a thriving epi-center of corporate, social, and residential activities. I believe a vibrant downtown will have dramatic, positive spill-over effects to the other neighborhoods.

An increase in the volume of foot traffic will foster new business and increase options and opportunities for the entire Ohio Valley. The next several years will probably see more private development than we have seen in decades. Wheeling had a great reputation at as destination spot, and I’m hopeful and confident that those days will once again be part of local lore.

Gene Fahey, Vice Mayor, Council member, Ward 6:

Manufacturing jobs!

Wheeling’s economy and population were strongest from 1930-1970, and during this time period jobs were plentiful which drove all aspects of the economy including retail, restaurants, and housing. I realize the past is the past and you need to learn from the past and not live in it, but the question is interesting and reflective.

Today, the economic drivers in Wheeling have changed tremendously since that time, but if there is one thing that I could bring back, manufacturing would be it —  Labelle, Wheeling Pittsburgh Steel, Wheeling Stamping, Marsh Wheeling, Wheeling Corrugating, Blaw-Know Rolls, Wheeling Machine Products, Hazel Atlas – just to name a few.

Regaining those kinds of jobs would bring substantial diversity to our present economy.

The J.B. Chambers Recreation Park in East Wheeling has bustled with activity since opening to the public earlier this year.
The J.B. Chambers Recreation Park in East Wheeling has bustled with activity since opening to the public earlier this year.

Glenn Elliott, Candidate, Mayor of Wheeling:

Some of my fondest memories from my childhood in the 1970s involved going to movies at one of the several Wheeling movie theaters downtown. I know that the contemporary market favors chain “megaplex” cinemas on the outskirts of town, but there is something about going to see a movie at a theater that shows only one movie at a time but makes the effort to show it well.

Now, we do have the Towngate Theatre & Cinema in Centre Market, and I think that’s a great community resource, but I have in mind something along the lines of The Uptown Theater in Washington, D.C., that focuses on showing the top movie at any given time by giving its customers the best experience possible (state of the art video and audio, comfortable seats, higher end concessions, etc.). When I lived in Washington, I regularly paid a few extra dollars to see movies at The Uptown instead of at some cookie-cutter box theater, and I think there is—or at least will be—a demand for this sort of experience in Wheeling.

The challenge, of course, would be finding an existing building to do so, as most of the historic theaters are gone, but perhaps this is something that could be explored in the Capitol or at The Victoria. Only time will tell.

Brown has worked diligently over the past two decades to preserve the historic theater.
Brown has worked diligently over the past two decades to preserve the historic theater.

Don Atkinson, Council member, Ward 5:

As the resident “Gear Head” (car guy) on Wheeling Council, the drive-in restaurant comes to mind. It was a big deal to get in the old ’63 Rambler with Dad and Mom and go to Elby’s for onion rings and a shake. The drive-in restaurant was a huge part of my high school years; every weekend we would all jump in our Hot Rods and hang out. I made a ton of friends there.

I believe it would still work today because many parents feed their kids in the car anyway what with all the after-school activities. At least they could sit and relax a few minutes while they eat at drive-in restaurant. I’m glad to see Sonic is starting to bring the trend back. It really was a lot of fun.

(Photos by Steve Novotney)