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Steve Novotney Says, "Possibility is Fun"

We hear about the future now in Wheeling because of the development that's taking place in the downtown district for the first time in more than three decades, and it's enjoyable to think about what could be next and what will follow.

For example, the Woda Group is in the midst of transforming an old warehouse on the corner of 16th and Main streets into an apartment building with one- and two-bedroom loft-style units. The plan calls for more than 70 apartments when the project is completely finished and the players of Wheeling's professional hockey team will quickly become the initial tenants in the building. The folks with Woda seem confident that with market-based pricing, they will fill the building once it is finished.

So, to dream just a bit, what could possibly follow the addition of 120 or so individuals living within the downtown district? Certainly the shops and eateries at Centre Market will welcome new customers thanks to the development, but what about in the general proximity of the Boury Lofts? There is currently 3,500 square feet of available space sitting vacant at the base of the Robert C. Byrd Intermodal Transportation Center and Wheeling's city manager, Robert Herron, has said he would enjoy speaking with anyone interested in opening a new business there.

A satellite version of a McDonald's? A general store kind of shop?

With the Health Plan's new headquarters now growing from the ground within the 1100 block one must wonder what might be developed nearby along Main Street. The city of Wheeling owns a couple of buildings directly across the Main Street from the construction site and Rebekah Karelis and Sarel Venter are now in the midst of renovating the former Tom's Pizza. Karelis and Venter plan to lease the first floor for commercial use, but what sort of business remains anyone's guess.

A lunch spot? An office supply store?

Market Plaza has been renovated, and the structure that once housed Louis' Hot Dog was demolished for a walkway to the Health Plan, but a few lots around the park are bare of buildings.

Another restaurant or two to join Subway to attract employees and residents from the Stone Center?

Of course the answers to all of these questions can only be answered by time and by those conducting business in the private sector, but I believe Wheeling's municipal government already has paved a path for such economic development, and the current council and mayor are pressing state lawmakers to increase the historical tax credit from 10 percent to 25 percent, the same implemented by Pennsylvania and Ohio. Folks in the local real estate industry have communicated confidence that if such an increase were approved, it would spark even more growth in Wheeling's downtown district and in several other areas, as well.

A prime example of possibility is the Schmulbach Building, the former Market Street home of Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel's headquarters and the downtown's largest building. Today it is completely empty and only two of the structure's 12 floors have been updated to achieve ADA compliance, but if that tax credit influx were implemented … .

It is fun to realistically contemplate what could follow the Health Plan's development and the construction of the loft apartments because, let's face it, decline is depressing and that's all we've had to watch in Wheeling since the late 1970s. Now, will the downtown become what it once was?

Doubtful.

Will the Friendly City again be home to the same number of residents that crowded the municipality's 15 square miles during the early 1900s?

Not likely.

But dreaming about the "ifs" in the future is far more enjoyable than waving goodbye.

Categories: Commentary