WHEELING - Situated along the banks of the Ohio River, Wheeling's Heritage Port continues to draw an ever-growing number of visitors to the city's waterfront and downtown area with the large variety of annual festivals.
The Upper Ohio Valley Italian Festival, Wheeling Heritage Music Blues Fest, Wheeling Wine & Jazz Festival, The Wheeling Feeling Chili Cook-off, Vintage Raceboat Regatta and the Sternwheel Festival are just a few of the festivals drawing large numbers of visitors to Wheeling's waterfront and downtown area.
Joelle Ennis, marketing and community relations specialist with the city of Wheeling, said she believes the river is one of the city's biggest assets.
"Whenever you have water, that's always a big feature. I think that Wheeling's Heritage Port is very well designed and now with the addition of the restrooms over the last couple of years over at the arena and the fact that the bike trail goes through there - it just gets a lot of traffic," said Ennis.
"In terms of festivals, we see several hundred thousand people come through there throughout the course of a summer," Ennis commented.
She said festivals such as the Heritage Music BluesFest and the Wine and Jazz Festival continue to get bigger and better each year.
Communities in the Upper Ohio Valley offer many diverse festivals. Are they successful?
Yes. In Wheeling alone there are the Upper Ohio Valley Italian Festival, Vintage Raceboat Regatta, Fort Henry Days at Oglebay Park, Heritage Music BluesFest and weekly Waterfront Wednesdays. Moundsville has the Elizabethtown Festival, Wellsburg features the Apple Festival and in Smithfield, there's the Jefferson County Fair.
Although the city doesn't actually produce many of the festivals that occur at Heritage Port, it does sponsor or partner with them.
Ennis said depending on the needs of those operating a festival, the city provides manpower and resources for the events held there by helping with things such as utility hook-ups or just providing police security.
"We help everyone down there in some shape or form ... sometimes it is just logistics," Ennis said.
One of the biggest things the city would like to focus more on for the 2011 festival season is making people more aware of other businesses located in the downtown area while they are visiting a festival.
Ennis said the city would like to see local residents start thinking of downtown "as a place of commerce as well."
Ennis said the city is working more to create partnerships between the downtown merchants and the local festivals.
"There are a lot of thriving businesses in those areas - and we would just like to have people make those connections," she said.
One of the biggest things that Ennis said she has noticed over the past few years is the festival season is getting longer. It now extends from the end of April until the beginning of October.
"It's really growing into almost a half of a year - just six or eight months of constant programming," she said.
Ennis said she views the waterfront festivals in Wheeling as regional events. She said they attract visitors from the entire region, and the surrounding communities hold great festivals as well. She said that while the city of Wheeling currently has a nice variety of festivals, officials are always willing to welcome any new ideas.
"We're definitely open to suggestions," she added.
Frank O'Brien, executive director of the Wheeling Convention & Visitors Bureau, said his agency is able to assist with many of the local fairs and festivals through a small fair and festival grant program.
"Everything from the Blues Festival to the Italian Festival, the CVB supports with marketing money so that they can make these events regional ... so it's not just a local event, it becomes a regional event, and anytime that you can bring people from out of town they're going to spend the night in hotels," O'Brien said.