OPINION: New Year’s Resolutions for the City of Wheeling Steve Novotney January 4, 2015 3 By Steve Novotney Generations have engaged each other, and many positive developments have occurred, but this does not mean that the work needed to complete the revitalization of Wheeling is finished. Great strides toward this end have been made and are continuing every day. But there is always room for more improvement. We all have our personal wish lists, and the good news is that people are now listening and considering those wishes. Today, many people in Wheeling possess the following mindset that, “There’s no such thing as a bad idea.” So, with that in mind, here are a few suggestions I would like to offer. I strongly encourage you to develop your own listing and get it out there. Growth of Multi-Cultural Festival: This past year the Wheeling YWCA expanded the annual event by partnering with the folks who operate the Black Heritage Festival and staging it at Heritage Port. But it was more of an educational opportunity than it was a celebration of the many different cultures currently residing in the Friendly City. I want food, too. What speaks heritage louder than food? While there were a few vendors last year, the offerings were far from “multi-cultural.” Now, if folks wish to represent their heritage, I believe the crowd would be HUGE. I know we already have a Greek festival and an Italian festival, but does that mean those folks couldn’t contribute to this, as well? I feel there’s potential here. I feel we are missing an opportunity to celebrate together as a community instead of in separation. And let’s be clear – I am not suggesting a combination of events in any way. I want that Greek festival to continue, and I need the Italian festival to do the same. But imagine the chance to eat killer pasta and grape leaves, and Indian, Middle Eastern, German, Polish, Irish, Hungarian, Chinese, and Japanese all on the same day! The Doobie Brothers played Wesbanco Arena last February, and they are expected to return to Wheeling in 2015. Risk Capital included in the budget for the Wheeling Sports and Entertainment Authority: Denny Magruder and Doug Campbell do what they can do, but the acts that entertain us inside the walls of the Capitol Theatre and Wesbanco Arena are acts that rent the venues. “Rentals” are shows with “promoters” who call Magruder or Campbell, book the room, pay the fee, and take the chance. If a show does well, the promoter makes money, the performer makes money, and the Authority picks up cash for the rental the sales of concessions. If a performance does not attract many ticket buyers, the Authority still banks the rental fee. I would like to see Magruder and Campbell get stoked with some risk capital – an amount of money they could use to bring in acts they believe will work in Wheeling. Magruder has been the GM for nearly 30 years, and Campbell has been his assistant for more than 20. These gentlemen are most familiar with the kinds of events that sell and do not sell well in this market, and if they were awarded some working room, I believe we would see our wish for improved scheduling become a reality. Thousands of Wheeling resident are above the age of 65, and many of them need assistance with house maintenance, sidewalk shoveling and lawn care. Recognizing and helping older Wheeling residents: Woodsdale is my native neighborhood in Wheeling, and I was a paper boy for that area. Delivering the daily news allowed me to get to know most of the folks who lived there, too. That’s why I know this is an issue in Wheeling, W.Va. I am also aware we need to accept this truth about our city: Many older Wheeling citizens are now in a very difficult situation in life. Because of the decline in the city’s population, their children no longer live in this area. In many cases, their kids are hundreds of miles away, and that renders them unavailable to help their parents or grandparents with the snow shoveling, the tree trimming, and home maintenance. PLUS, these older residents are on fixed incomes, so they do not have the kind of cash it takes to pay today’s child today’s price for a shoveled walk. I was lucky to get $5 per walk when I was a hustling kid, but I understand today’s going rate is more than $20 for the average Woodsdale walk. Snowfall, I believe, would present the residents of the city of Wheeling the opportunity to identify these struggling neighbors, and I have already suggested the city’s Code Enforcement Officer be assigned the duty of noting the unshoveled sidewalks. From this point, the identification process begins, and it’s as easy as visiting the Ohio County Clerk’s Office and checking property deeds. And at this point, I would like to see the public pick up the ball. How? Volunteerism. Interested Wheeling residents could register as available to shovel, to cut lawns, to perform some much-needed fix-it jobs, and to address whatever serious issues a resident may have with their residence. Perhaps this is a task for Jake Dougherty and his the ReInvent Wheeling organization. There could be grants available to help make this effort a reality. I’d volunteer. More trash receptacles in downtown Wheeling: There are a few, but more are needed, especially in the areas of 7/Eleven, DiCarlo’s, and CVS Pharmacy. People litter. I don’t know why, but they do. If we can get some receptacles in the right areas and regular maintenance for them, it would decrease the number of hot dog and pizza boxes, and candy wrappers that riddle the city’s downtown district. Picnics within the 1100 block of downtown Wheeling: My wife and I plan to do it just to do it. I figure it will give passersby something to talk about, and it also will promote the idea. It’s green space right now, and that means we have a chance to patronize a local eatery, pop a squat, and have a picnic on ground where a picnic has never taken place. No one knows how long this land will be free of new buildings, so we plan to do it – with our pup, Einstein – some afternoon after warming temperatures and dry conditions return. Hmmm … the decision … the Korean Pork Tacos from the Vagabond Kitchen or the Cuban sandwich from River City, or pizza from Vocelli’s or DiCarlo’s, or burgers from The Bridge Tavern? A letter-writing campaign concerning the future of flood insurance: We’ve printed the comments made by Wheeling’s city manager before: “The way I look at that issue is that the federal government passed legislation because FEMA was in a financial hole. What they have done is placed that burden on the people who live in flood plain areas,” Robert Herron said. “To me, that’s shifting a federal burden onto local governments because not only are citizens going to have to pay more for flood insurance, but it is going to dramatically reduce the property values in those flood plains. “In communities in the core of our country – like Wheeling – it’s going to reduce property values, and that will reduce the amount of property taxes for local government. No one pays property taxes to the federal government. They pay them to local governments, and if this is not changed it is going to create an incredibly difficult burden on local governments.” In five years, the values of properties in non-flood-plain areas will decrease, and everyone’s taxes will increase to make up the difference. The Ohio County Board of Education approved an operations budget of nearly $60 million a few months ago, so a reduction in tax collections likely would result in a tax increase. No one wants that, and it’s real easy to let that be known. https://mckinleyforms.house.gov/email-me That is a link to U.S. Rep. David McKinley’s office. Use it and request representation. I can tell you the congressman has initiated a conversation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but no movement has been reported by the D.C. media in several months. Wheeling officials have communicated with all of Friendly City’s federal representatives, and Councilman David Miller told me he plans to instigate additional conversations in 2015. It is my belief it will take more. I believe it will take us. An improved public transit system throughout the Upper Ohio Valley: The schedules and routes may have made sense 20 years ago, but today? They need to play again: Let’s all grow up a little. Let’s put the pride away. Let’s sing, “Kumbaya.” I’m not trying to insult anyone. I get it. After years and years of hearing, “Let them play football again,” the much larger public school system finally said yes. And then? Well, the parochial school pulled out. In late 2014, middle schools in Ohio County suddenly canceled all games against parochial and private schools. That decision has been reversed, though, and it is my hope that a compromise can be discovered so the Maroon Knights and the Patriots can do battle once again. If the two schools continue to not compete in football, fine, but at least give the students an opportunity to continue their rivalry in other sports. I graduated from Linsly, so I didn’t get the chance to compete against my friends from Wheeling Park unless it was on the baseball field. Those games were special! And when Wheeling Central was on the schedule? I still own many memories from each encounter, and I can tell you the score of each game. These kids know each other, and they want to play each other. They want the bragging rights. It’s fun, and right now these children, and their parents, are getting robbed. Let them play. Members of Wheeling Council are willing to discuss ideas and suggestions with Friendly City residents before or after their two regular meetings each month. A charter review for the government of the city of Wheeling: He mentioned during his campaign, and he’s reiterated his wish to address the Wheeling’s City Charter, but during Mayor Andy McKenzie’s first six years in the position nothing has been approached. I believe the Charter needs to be addressed. The Charter has not been revised since 1992, and the past 22 years have brought a lot of change. Should the city continue to have six wards? Should the elected mayor remain part-time? Today’s Wheeling deserves to make these kinds of decisions instead of living under the opinions of the past. The former Wheeling Hotel is located on three floors above The Bridge Tavern on Main Street. New housing in downtown Wheeling: I’ve been inside many of the buildings in downtown Wheeling, and I have seen a lot of unused space that could be repurposed for housing. One example is the former Wheeling Hotel. Today, it’s three floors of vacant space above The Bridge Tavern on Main Street. George Dormas, the longtime owner of The Bridge, owns the building and currently has the property up for sale. The total package – the building, the Bridge business, and all of the equipment – is now priced at around $450,000, but he’s also willing to break it down and sell each piece individually. While I was in the building, I envisioned each floor divided into a pair of apartments with the staircase dividing the units. Vast renovations would be necessary, but it is dry, intact, located next to the 10th Street Parking Garage, and is in close proximity to the Stone Center, the Mull Center, and the Capitol Theatre. But will it ever take place? It is my hope that it does at this location and in several others in the downtown district. Several structures have the same potential as does the space once known as the Wheeling Hotel. Share this:Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window) 3 Responses Ding Ding Ding January 6, 2016 The FEMA flood plain changes aren’t placing a burden on local governments, it is placing the burden where it should be – people that buy property in a flood plain. For a long time, those rates were ridiculously low and did not remotely reflect the risk for those properties. Many properties, like ones on the island for example, have flooded repeatedly in my lifetime and the cumulative paid flood losses exceed fair market value of the structures several times over. Why should a government – local or federal – be called upon to subsidize bad choices? If your house has a disproportionately high chance of being destroyed – and you almost certainly knew this when you purchased it – why should anyone but the purchaser be responsible for insuring it? I think it is disingenuous to say the changes will reduce property values. It may ‘reduce’ property values, but it is really a correction to the fair market value without heavily subsidized insurance. Log in to Reply woodsmom January 4, 2015 “Picnics within the 1100 block…” How about petitioning to KEEP that area a green space? Lord knows downtown needs more green space, and this green space would make a lovely extension to the park already nearby that will soon have an elephant in residence. How about a few more parks? More places to get outside downtown and “pop a squat” for lunch, play a little frisbee or just hang out. Green spaces have been proven to increase adjacent property values and increase the quality of life in the surrounding areas. One such document, published on the California Parks and Recreation Society website, http://www.cprs.org, written by John Crompton, Professor at Texas A&M, discusses the “proximate principle”, in other words, the closer a park (up to three city blocks) to your residence or building, the higher the property value, especially for a passive park. (Crompton, 2007: The Impact Of Parks And Open Spaces On Property Values) There are plenty of buildings downtown. Humans need access to green spaces and since that bright spot is already there, let’s make it more usable by adding some amenities: a few benches, a shade tree or two, a picnic table and trash cans. We have Heritage Port, and soon will have the sculpture garden, but I’ve never heard anyone complain about having too many parks. “Build it and they will come” was about a park! Let’s build another where it’s needed and available in downtown Wheeling! Log in to Reply Steve Novotney January 4, 2015 Woodsmom – I COMPLETELY understand what you are saying, but with Heritage Port a block away I think we’re covered in the downtown parks area. The reason why I plan to picnic in this area this spring is because we may not have the chance in the future because I expect some sort of development in the area in the near future. That’s not to say I know of anything, because, at this point, I do not. But the potential is there and I wish not to miss the chance. 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