CEO: The Health Plan Is ‘Firecracker’ for City of Wheeling

Photo by Scott McCloskey Cutting the ribbon to officially open the headquarters of The Health Plan in downtown Wheeling this morning are, from left, Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott, Gov. Jim Justice, company CEO Jim Pennington and former mayor Andy McKenzie.

WHEELING –It may not be an ethane cracker, but The Health Plan CEO Jim Pennington said his company’s $16 million headquarters — housing nearly 400 full-time employees — is a “firecracker” for economic development in downtown Wheeling.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, Mayor Glenn Elliott, along with former mayors Nick Sparachane and Andy McKenzie, joined Pennington to cut the ribbon on the new 53,000-square-foot, four-story structure this morning.

“I congratulate The Health Plan beyond belief,” Justice said. “This is extremely important for the city of Wheeling.”

“I think this building creates a vision for the future of Wheeling,” Pennington said. “This creates an economic development kind of firecracker to set things off downtown.”

How We Got Here

The road to opening this headquarters began several years ago, when city council members voted to use tax increment financing to purchase and demolish multiple buildings in the 1100 block of Main and Market streets. These buildings once housed viable businesses such as the G.C. Murphy store, Rite Aid, Feet First and Downtown Wheeling Antiques.

However, they had fallen into disrepair by the late 2000s, so city leaders proceeded to purchase and, ultimately, demolish them.

Officials later purchased and demolished three other buildings that were not part of the original agreement — Howard’s Diamond Center, the Panda Chinese Kitchen and the former Vocelli Pizza location — to clear the space for new development.

In December 2015, city leaders joined officials with The Health Plan to announce the company would relocate its corporate office from St. Clairsville to downtown Wheeling. The company paid nothing for the land.

Since that time, contractors worked to prepare the site and construct The Health Plan’s new building. Employees began moving into the new structure last year, while the final workers arrived in Wheeling last week.

Belmont County officials recently agreed to pay $3.3 million for The Health Plan’s former structures near St. Clairsville, with plans to create a consolidated county court system on the campus.

Employee Experiences

The Health Plan employees Lindsay Nolan and Nicole Russell said they enjoy their new building, which comes decorated with at least 50 pieces of art created by West Virginia natives.

“It’s going well so far. I really enjoy the hot dog place across the street,” Nolan said in reference to Tito’s Sloppy Dogs on Market Street.

“It seems like Wheeling is an up and coming place. We’re glad to be here,” Russell added.

Immediately upon entering either the Main Street or Market Street side of the building, one finds the lobby and reception desk. To the south, there are conference rooms, while the elevators are to the north.

Each of the upper floors features a similar design, with many employees assigned to cubicles. Each floor features restrooms and a refreshment area. Normal business hours when the facility is open to the public will be 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday, although some employees are expected to begin working as early as 6 a.m.

Wendy Hodorowski, company marketing director, said there are about 325 employees in the main building, with approximately another 70 working in the former Horne’s department store building nearby.

Pennington said any concerns about employee parking in downtown Wheeling have proven minor.

“Each employee was provided a stipend to park wherever they wanted to,” he said. “We have some employees that park across the bridge and walk across the Wheeling Suspension Bridge.”

The Future

On the upper floors, both sides of the building feature windows that essentially serve as a transparent wall. This means employees get clear views of Market Street buildings, such as the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel building, as well as sights of the the Ohio River and Absure Tower on Main Street.

Officials with Louisville, Ohio-based Coon Restoration and Sealants hope to complete a $20 million project at the Wheeling-Pitt. building that would include about 100 new market-rate apartments, while several other downtown buildings are being considered for similar redevelopment.

“This is a significant success story for the city of Wheeling,” City Manager Robert Herron said. “We hope to be able to emulate this success throughout the city.”

“I’ve lived in several cities. When the downtown area goes through a transition, similar to what Wheeling went through, bringing folks to live downtown starts to change the economic value of the downtown area,” Pennington added. “I think Wheeling has potential for that.”