OCDA Not Interested in Highlands Housing

Ohio County Administrator Greg Stewart said he’s received some calls from housing developers interested in building at The Highlands – but the Ohio County Development Authority doesn’t want to get into the housing business, he said.

”The main issue would be long-term maintenance,” Stewart said of such properties. ”We’re trying to keep our focus on job creation and tax growth.”

But he expects in the next few years that housing contractors likely will try to build single-family homes or apartments near the site. Since the recent natural gas drilling boom began, he noted, people are placing higher asking prices on their land, making building potentially less attractive to potential developers.

Stewart noted a planned sewage system expansion by the Ohio County Public Service District could help private housing developers in the future. The sewage project is expected to start either in late fall or early spring, he said.

The authority has sold some plots of land at the site to hotel developers, the first being a Microtel that openly recently. Construction also is under way on a Hampton Inn at the site.

Meanwhile, the OCDA continues to sign on new tenants for the Town Center area of the development, which is located beside Marquee Cinemas. Stewart anticipates it will be full soon, and the newest tenant may reveal themselves next week during a tentative Ohio County Development Authority meeting.

”The West Liberty (Highlands Center) has shaped up the way we hoped,” Stewart said referring to the building known as TC 5.

He noted the Town Center area has a mix of retailers, such as Howard’s Diamond Center and wine distributor Sokolin, and other businesses. The Town Center area also has attracted science and technology companies such as Technology Services Group, Science Applications International Corp., or SAIC, and the AT&T call center.

Ohio County Commissioner Randy Wharton said the authority now can be a little more choosy in who it signs on. Companies that don’t seem like a good fit for The Highlands are referred to the city of Wheeling or Regional Economic Development Partnership, he added.

“We really do get a lot of inquiries,” Wharton said, noting a company seeking to locate at the site needs to have a good business plan to convince the authority it can be a good, long-term tenant.

He added the authority continues to seek additional restaurants for the site, including someone to fill the former Indigo Joe’s space at the Town Center. He noted, though, that the Indigo Joe’s site could also be used for another type of business.