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Steve Novotney Says, "Take A Good Look"

An Open Letter to our natives visiting their hometown:

It is my hope, while you are spending time with family and friends you have likely not seen since the last time you returned to the Upper Ohio Valley, that you at least for a brief time take a good look around while you are here because you might just believe something positive is taking place here for a change.

While it is true downtown Wheeling still has several vacant storefronts and entire buildings, there is something large growing in the center of it all that could lead to new tenants with new businesses that may soon fill some of that empty square footage. For the first time since the mid-1980s, a new building is under construction in the downtown district, and the project is not funded by taxpayers.

When it's completed, the future Health Plan headquarters will be located on the land once occupied by G.C. Murphy and several other businesses along Main and Market streets, and while it begins to grow, the Woda Group's construction companies have been very busy transforming the former Boury warehouse on the corner of Main and 16th streets into more than 70 loft apartments.

All of a sudden, it is about construction instead of demolition in the city's downtown, and growth and not decline has ushered itself in, and for many of us who live and work here anyway, it is a feeling not experienced for more than 30 years.

But it's not taking place just in downtown Wheeling but instead in many corners of this community. Many historic homes have been purchased and preserved in North Wheeling; Mt. Wood Cemetery has been rescued and no longer is a large yard of toppled grave stones; a two-block area once riddled with dilapidated and vacant homes is where the multi-purposed J.B. Chamber Recreation Park now rests; residents of South Wheeling have worked tirelessly the past two years to identity historic buildings before more razing takes place; and many more structures in Woodsdale, Edgwood, Springdale, and Elm Grove have been bought in the past year or two to renovate and preserve as parcel turnover continues at a fairly rapid pace.

And that's not to mention that Long John Silver's along National Road, a business for more than 35 years at the same location, is now gone and soon to be replaced by Wheeling's very first Taco Bell.

The best news of all, though, is that there is more to come, especially if petrochemical company PTT Global of Thailand gives the final thumbs up with constructing a full-sized cracker plant.

But why now? Why here?

As for the possible cracker plant, PTT Global is simply following the Shell Co., and since the energy giant announced it would construct a similar petrochemical operation in Monoca, Pa., PTT needs proximity to the country's new "cracker community" since it is an industry that crowds each other in states like Texas and Louisana.

But IT is also because many natives of Wheeling were educated very well at Wheeling Park, Wheeling Central, and Linsly, and they have gone off to find opportunity and since have proven to be successful in life, so whether it's now time for retirement or to raise children, many have returned to stay because of the low cost of living, solid educational choices for children and young adults, and the growing number of living-wage employment opportunities with local law firms and financial institutions, or with companies such as Tag, Orrick and Williams Lea.

Granted, 12 years ago when I made the decision to return to Wheeling after eight years in the Pittsburgh media market, I was looked at as a failure who couldn't make it in the big city because no one seemed to believe that my wife and I wished to move home to be closer to family while our son was serving with U.S. Army's 101st Division in the Middle East. Instead, I must have screwed up somehow some way and was forced to default to the hometown.

That's right, default, they said.

But the view of such homecomings has changed and now instead of "What happened?' it's more like "Good for you. Welcome home."

So if you can find the time spend a few moments to notice what might be different this time while visiting your old stomping grounds. I will tell you right now you will not be pleased with most of the playgrounds or with your drive up and down Wheeling Hill; the Dairy Queen in Fulton is still old-school and exactly what you remember, but the one in Elm Grove is much newer and now offers a selection of ice cream cakes; the Valley's steel industry, except for the coke plant in Brooke County, has been shuttered by bankruptcy, and the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel HQ in downtown is completely empty; and most sidewalks in the city suck and many of the curbs are chipped and ugly. It's all true. You'll see it.

But the turnabout is upon us. Finally.

Have some fun. See the positive instead of the negative this time while visiting home. It may make you think, for a change, about the future of your hometown instead of its storied past.

Categories: Commentary