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Steve Novotney Says, "2016 - Positives and Negatives"

The past year has brought with it both exciting and disappointing news to the people of the Upper Ohio Valley, but the overall "feel" seems to be that future changes in the region will bring growth instead of decline.

Downtown Growth

People were angry, and it didn't seem to matter that the six buildings that were demolished had been vacant for more than a couple of decades. For whatever reasons, having that old, empty G.C. Murphy's smack-dab in the middle of downtown Wheeling was what someone wanted no matter what.

But Andy McKenzie, mayor of Wheeling from 2008-2016, insisted that if the buildings came down in favor of green space, something new could occur. And he was correct. The Health Plan, an insurance company with four office locations in West Virginia and Ohio, announced about a year ago it would construct its new headquarters on the footprint, and construction is well under way in the district's 1100 block. Once complete, as many as 400 employees will work in Wheeling, and many expected additional development to make way for a few new amenities in the downtown.

We know more than 70 loft apartments soon will be available inside the former Boury warehouse on the corner of 16th and Main streets and that the Vagabond Kitchen will open early next year at 12th and Market streets, but what else might follow the Health Plan remains to be realized. But growth instead of decline is a most welcomed change for the city of Wheeling.

The Dragon Keeps Winning

We heard about something called a "Skittles Party" and later learned that it had zilch to do with candy. Instead, teenagers were swiping their parents' and grandparents' prescription pills, tossing them into a bowl at a friend's house, and then ingesting them without knowing exactly what would happen next.

Then the issue grew to situations stemming from addiction to those opioid pills whether it was from stealing a prescription or buying the meds on the streets of the Upper Ohio Valley, and the recent news about the millions of pills that have been shipped into West Virginia over the past few years has made many realize the role played by Big Pharma.

But now first responders have Narcon readily available, and that's because this drug epidemic has evolved to heroin, a highly addictive narcotic that has taken far too many lives from this valley region during the past half-decade. In fact, during the past year, parents have chosen to go public with the problem that has taken a life from theirs by composing obituaries that have admitted the deadly truth about addiction.

Cubs Win! So Do Cavs!

Droughts, in sports that is, can be painful experiences, and Pirates fans mostly certainly can attest to that fact. Pittsburgh big-league franchise failed to finish above .500 for two depressing decades until finally, four years ago, winning more games than the club lost.

For fans of the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Cavaliers, though, winning it all was an accomplishment that was not realized until the calendar read "2016."

The Cubs spent millions filling holes in the outfield and in the pitching rotation, and then before the trade deadline they bolstered their bullpen with baseball's best closer. And it worked although the Cubs had fallen behind the Cleveland Indians 3-1 in the World Series. But with a win in Cleveland and two more at home, the city of Chicago celebrated its first world championship since 1908.

Although Cleveland fell in the World Series, LeBron James and the Cavaliers delivered the city's first world title since 1964. That's when the Browns captured the title in football before the creation of the Super Bowl and Jim Brown was a record-setting running back and not a wannabe actor.

The Future of the Pirates

One.

That's the new streak.

After winning 98 games in 2015 and qualifying for baseball's postseason for a third season in a row, the ballclub faltered yet again this year. Pitching was the primary problem, but instead of adding personnel, team ownership instead decided to shed dollars from the payroll by trading away a key starting pitcher and one of the game's best closers.

What does that mean for 2017? The Pirates have been relatively quiet this offseason except for entertaining trade offers for the team's poster-boy player in Andrew McCutchen. There's been "Hot Stove" talk about this trade and that trade, but in the end it's all speculation and rumor-mill banter. As the roster sits today, there remains a need for pitching and also bench strength with just seven weeks before spring training begins in Bradenton, Fla., and the fan base is paying more attention than ever.

That's because, in 2016, the average price for a ticket to gain access to PNC Park increased to about $20 each and although the price represents one of the lowest in the majors, it remains a price tag that provokes hesitation for a fan base once accustomed to NOT paying attention. If the team's ownership wishes to continue attracting more than 2 million fans to the stands, winning must be the obvious objective, but if it is not, the avid enthusiasts will simply stay home.

Categories: Commentary