Wheeling Heritage

2019 Great American Main Street Award Winner


Wheeling Heritage in Wheeling, West Virginia, is one of three winners of the 2019 Great American Main Street Award (GAMSA), which recognizes communities for their excellence in comprehensive preservation-based commercial district revitalization. Selected by a national jury of community development professionals and leaders in the fields of economic development and historic preservation, Wheeling is being recognized for transforming their once blighted downtown into a thriving destination with a strong small business community.

At a Glance

Main Street America Program: Wheeling Heritage
Coordinating Program: Main Street West Virginia and ON TRAC
Year Organization Founded: 2015
Population: 27,066
Public and Private Reinvestment: $48,841,500*
Net New Businesses: 37*

*Since Main Street America program began

“In only a few years, Wheeling Heritage has changed the narrative around what is possible for their downtown,” said National Main Street Center President and CEO Patrice Frey. “Wheeling Heritage has brought significant economic opportunity to their Main Street, harnessed the neighborhood’s historic character, and helped residents believe in the future of their community.”

Located along the Ohio River, Wheeling experienced significant disinvestment in the 1980s and 90s as retailers went to suburban shopping malls and major local industries suffered losses. When Wheeling’s Main Street program launched in 2015, their downtown’s vacancy rate stood at 32 percent. Now, after generating nearly $50 million in total investment downtown, the vacancy rate has decreased to 15 percent and 124 buildings have seen improvements.

Left: Located on the Ohio River, Wheeling has a mix of beautiful historic buildings and new, state-of-the-art construction. Credit: Glenn Elliott  Right: Downtown Wheeling boasts a diverse mix of businesses featuring unique retail, dining establishments, and service industries. Credit: Ben Muldrow

“We’ve been successful because we are cognizant of the ever-changing nature of our community. While we’ve taken great strides, our work isn’t done,” said Alex Weld, Project and Outreach Manager at Wheeling Heritage, who oversees Wheeling's Main Street program. “We continuously evaluate and adapt our programming to address pressing needs in the community, which we feel is the best way to help Wheeling continue to flourish.”

Thanks to a growing downtown shopping, dining, and arts scene, anchored by the iconic Capitol Theater and Centre Market Historic District, more people are living in downtown Wheeling than ever before. Once vacant buildings, including a warehouse and former department store, have been transformed into unique living spaces. While there were no multi-family market-rate apartments in 2015, there are now 100 new multi-family, market-rate units in Wheeling’s historic downtown.

Wheeling Heritage has also worked to cultivate a strong small business community. From launching a live community crowd-funding event for new business ideas called Show of Hands, to bringing an international entrepreneur training program to assist new business owners, Wheeling Heritage has been creative in their approach to community-based economic development. These programs have yielded positive results. Over the past three years, their downtown has added 37 net new businesses.

Howell-blog-post-graphic-2-richard-lim-photography.pngLeft: Wheeling Heritage provides a grant to  traditional Greek dancers at the annual Greek Festival as a way to highlight Greek culture while engaging and educating the public on Greek tradition. Credit: West Virginia Tourism Office Right: Show of Hands, a community-supported crowdfunding event, has given more than $42,000 to community projects and small businesses. Credit: Matt Myles

“It's an honor to receive national recognition for the impact of our work,” said Jake Dougherty, Executive Director of Wheeling Heritage. While all of us here in Wheeling see the progress the city has made, it’s always nice to see people outside of the city recognize our progress and potential. Although we were selected for work that has been done in the past four years, this is built off decades of effort by many people.”

Main Street West Virginia Coordinator Nikki Martin echoed Dougherty. “Wheeling is an outstanding example of how West Virginians can work together to achieve downtown revitalization and improve quality of life. Under the leadership of Alex Weld and Jake Dougherty, and with phenomenal support from the board, volunteers, businesses, community, and local government over the years – you see the amazing results that come when people come together to love their downtown.”

Explore the other 2018 Great American Main Street Award winners: Alberta Main Street and Wausau River District.