Proposed parking garage in Wheeling still lacking key information

WHEELING — More than a year after city officials first mentioned the project, the size, funding source and expected revenue for a proposed downtown parking structure are still to be determined.

The proposed garage, which would cost $11 million to construct on existing parking lots, would also potentially involve a land lease with the lots’ owners that would cost $15,000 monthly for a term of 30 years, according to a draft memorandum of understanding.

Though the funding source for construction has yet to be finalized, City Manager Robert Herron said the lease, operating costs and maintenance costs for the garage would all paid for by the the revenue the property would generate.

The exact revenue would rely on how big the structure is, or how many spaces it has, Herron said, a figure that will be determined once the city hires and architectural and engineering firm to design the project. Design costs would be included within the construction budget.

In January, the city interviewed six such firms, which presented their proposals for the structure. For the project to move forward, the city would have to hire a firm and then get approval for the project by City Council, which would require a public hearing.

The proposed structure, to be built between 1145 Market and 1145 Main streets, would accompany the planned rehabilitation of the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel building by Ohio-based company Coon Restoration and Sealants. The company plans to invest $30 million to convert the structure into an apartment building with 116 residential units.

In January 2018, Mayor Glenn Elliott and Vice Mayor Chad Thalman said the city was working on a deal for a parking garage to accompany the 12-story building. A representative from Coon Restoration later said the company needed the city to commit to the garage in order for the Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel building renovation to occur.

Since then, city officials have continued to mention the garage when speaking about downtown development.

The garage would be fully automated and potentially include 4,500 square feet for retail space, revenues from which would go toward the owners of the lots.

According to the Ohio County Assessor’s website, the parking lot properties are owned by two limited liability companies based in Wheeling. Those companies list attorneys Jacob M. Robinson and Robert P. Fitzsimmons as respective officers on the West Virginia Secretary of State’s website.

At recent City Council meetings, Wheeling resident and retired construction consultant Jerry Jacobs has been a voice of opposition toward the proposed parking garage. Jacobs believes the structure would be a poor use of taxpayer money and has criticized council’s transparency regarding the project.

Jacobs said he’s concerned that the proposed $15,000 monthly payments through the lease, or $5.4 million over 30 years, would come at the expense of Wheeling taxpayers.

He said he doesn’t believe that the garage would be self-sustaining financially despite the city maintaining otherwise.

“My whole focus now, not just with the city, but the state, is wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars, and for those who are either unaware of it or don’t know how to have their voices heard,” Jacobs said.

Herron said all of Wheeling’s city-owned surface lots and parking garages are self-sustaining, adding that the city’s parking system contributes $240,000 annually to the general fund in the city budget. The proposed garage would work within that system, covering its own costs, he said.

In addition, Jacobs said he sent two alternate plans for funding the parking structure to City Council. Those plans involve asking the owners of the Wheeling Pittsburgh Steel building to negotiate its own lease and building the lot on properties north of the building through a joint venture with the federal government.

At the Feb. 5 City Council meeting, Elliott said no decisions regarding the structure have been made and that any decisions would have to be ratified by the body with a public hearing. City officials have also maintained that the draft memorandum is in no way final and the details in it will likely change.

“It’s based on a proposed structure, no voting has been done. All of us on the body are going to have to make a decision,” Elliott said at the meeting.

Jacobs, however, said he believes council would still approve the project even if it heard opposition.

“When they get done, they’ve fulfilled their legal obligation and then they’re going to pass the damn thing,” he said. “And we’re going to be stuck with it.”

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