WHEELING - Months after demolition crews leveled almost an entire block of downtown Wheeling, there doesn't yet seem to be a clear vision from city government for the future of the site.
And that's as it should be, if you ask Mayor Andy McKenzie.
"Government has done (its) part. ... We've created empty, flat space," McKenzie said of the project, which saw most of the buildings in the 1100 block of Main and Market streets razed to clear the way for future development. "We'll allow private enterprise to decide what it will become."
Above, Dore and Associates of Michigan performs demolition work in the 1100 block of downtown Wheeling during May of 2012.
Below, Most of the 1100 block of Main and Market streets in downtown Wheeling is now open space awaiting a developer.
Though he didn't specifically endorse any option for the 1100 block, McKenzie said downtown needs more residential opportunities. He also believes the downtown could benefit from having more small shops and restaurants - things that might encourage more people taking in a Wheeling Nailers game, going to a show at the Capitol Theatre or attending one of many city-sponsored events during the summer to extend their visit downtown beyond the specific event which drew them there.
The 1100 block project began in 2007, when Wheeling City Council under former Mayor Nick Sparachane laid out its plan to begin acquiring property. The first wave of acquisitions came about a year later, when McKenzie's first-term council used tax increment financing to purchase the former Rite Aid, G.C. Murphy and River City Dance Works buildings.
In late 2011, Council purchased the former Feet First Building and Velez dental office. The city failed to reach agreements to purchase the Panda Chinese Kitchen and Vocelli Pizza buildings, which remain in operation on the block, as well as the former Howards Diamond Center.
Taxpayers thus far have contributed a total of about $1.9 million to the demolition project, only about $700,000 of which was for the demolition contract itself. The rest includes about $800,000 for property acquisition, $220,000 for asbestos abatement and $160,000 to compensate Velez for relocating his dental practice from the 1100 block to Elm Grove.
Though the end result has yet to be seen, McKenzie believes it has been money well spent.
"Now we have created opportunity. ... We had a choice. We could have continued to let (the buildings) be dilapidated and sit empty," he said.