Commissioner Touts Growth at Highlands

The Highlands development and areas surrounding it in Ohio County soon could be home to as many as four new hotels, according to Ohio County Commissioner Randy Wharton.

Wharton was the speaker Wednesday for the weekly meeting of the Wheeling Lions Club. He updated members on happenings at The Highlands and throughout Ohio County. Wharton also is a member of the Ohio County Development Authority, which is the county commission’s development arm.

The first of the hotels is being constructed at The Highlands – a Microtel Inn & Suites. It is expected to open in June, he said.

The Microtel is being developed by Highlands Hospitality LLC, an affiliate of Wheeling-based Century Equities Inc., which purchased the plot of land from the Ohio County Development Authority.

But Wharton added commissioners currently are working to finalize deals on two additional hotels, one that could be open this year and a second that could be open by next spring. He said he couldn’t reveal any additional details about the deals.

In addition to the three hotels expected to open in the coming months at The Highlands, a fourth hotel – a Holiday Inn Express – is currently under construction across Interstate 70 on a plot of land located near the Robinson and Straub car dealerships. The Holiday Inn Express is not an OCDA project, but is being developed by brothers Jim and Jonathan Duggan.

“Believe it or not, there will be four hotels there – the three we have and the one on the other side … ” Wharton said.

He cited statistics indicating The Highlands currently provides the county with 3,200 jobs, and a $70 million annual payroll.

There are 72 tenants in the development, and the retail offerings accounted for $257 million in sales last year, according to Wharton. He said this represented a 3 percent growth over the previous year.

“What makes me feel good about that, is that is not the trend around the country,” Wharton said. “We have been managing to experience growth, and that is encouraging.”

He said the county was actually lucky to not have secured any of the more “upscale stores” that downsized during the recent unstable economy.

“That is one thing we don’t need around here is empty store fronts,” Wharton said. “And people can’t afford to pay for that merchandise. When you have Walmart, Target, Kohl’s and J.C. Penney, you are recession-proof. And those stores continue to do good sales, and they prosper.”

He said the commissioners also have been involved with the movement of some county offices.

Commissioners have completed the move of the Ohio County Tax Office on the first floor of the City-County Building to the former Wheeling City Council chambers on the second floor, and council soon will be moving its chambers into the vacated first floor space, Wharton said.

The move is being made to keep after hours meetings on the first floor and help with security in the City-County Building. Evening commission meetings will continue to take place in the commission chambers on the second floor.

Two additional deputies also have been hired to handle security on the first floor, he added.

The current Ohio County Magistrate offices also will be moving soon, according to Wharton. The county is planning to lease all of the space in the former county jail building to the state of West Virginia for the incarceration of prisoners nearing the end of their sentences, he said.