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Reinvigorating splash coming to Wheeling Park landmarks

WHEELING — Planned improvements at Wheeling Park aim to add a new splash of life to some of the park’s longtime landmarks – updates that Park officials see as critical to the site’s future.

On Tuesday, Wheeling City Council approved distribution of the first big slices of its federal allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act. In total, the city received around $29.5 million in pandemic relief funds to be reinvested back into the community by the end of 2024.

The first big chunks of ARPA funds were distributed to entities that were not only impacted financially by the pandemic, but are also economic drivers in the community – entities that draw people from outside of the area into Wheeling. The Wheeling Park Commission was awarded $1,885,110 in ARPA funding for improvements at Wheeling Park, and the Greater Wheeling Sports and Entertainment Authority received $1,495,400 for a variety of upgrades for WesBanco Arena and the Capitol Theatre.

Officials from the Wheeling Park Commision and the Oglebay Foundation were on hand when council allocated the ARPA funds. Bob Peckenpaugh, president and CEO of the Wheeling Park Commission, shared some of the planned improvements for Wheeling Park.

Peckenpaugh noted that he’s been on the job now for 17 months, and over that time, he’s had a chance to meet with many people in the community who have fond memories of Wheeling Park – whether it’s the old teen dances at the White Palace or cutting across open fields to swim at the pool decades ago.

“I’ve had a chance to meet so many people from the community, and that sense of pride,” he said. “All of these different stories really resonate with me.

“We’re looking to reinvegorate Wheeling Park and to make a statement down there.”

Peckenpaugh said the commission has a pool of matching funds to invest along with the ARPA money, and long-term upgrades at Wheeling Park could total around $8 million. The current plans represent about a $3.6 million investment, he noted.

Among the planned upgrades are improvements to the White Palace, including the front entrance and the side ballroom entrance. A new deck off of the main entrance will boast a sign that says “The White Palace Cafe.”

“One of the ideas that we’re working on and actually we have plans all drawn up and ready to go to construction is to create a Starbucks-like cafe at Wheeling Park – a central gathering place,” Peckenpaugh said. “We already have the dog park that we partnered with (the city) and the community to put behind the White Palace. We have the ice skating rink. We’re talking about maybe making the ice skating rink a roller rink. You have the swimming pool, the walking trails, the picnic sites … but we thought it would be great to have a cafe in the middle of it all. And this gives us an opportunity not only to have a cafe on the interior but also to open the doors up to the exterior and soften the look of the front of the White Palace as well.”

A softened look and improved accessibility will be coming to the ballroom entrance, as well, complete with a new picture window on the second floor and an enhancement of the second floor entrance into the ballroom to “create a sense of arrival.”

Next door at the newly renovated ice rink, additional improvements are in the works.

“We’re looking at completely fixing the roof on the ice rink and creating some ventilation as well,” Peckenpaugh said. “When there’s a full house of kids skating down there, we get a lot of condensation building up and dripping down on the rink, and even the windows around it all fog up. So we’re working on a fix for that.”

The final piece of the planned improvements using the ARPA money will be at the pool.

“We affectionately call this the Wheeling Park ‘sprayground,'” Peckenpaugh said of the planned all-inclusive, accessible play area for children at the pool. “It’s ADA accessible so that all kids can utilize it, no matter what their abilities are. It creates that one additional element that’s going to make Wheeling Park Pool that much more treasured to go and attend.”

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