The Health Plan Is Remaking Wheeling
By ALEC BERRY
If there is some sign of progress in downtown Wheeling, it is the ongoing construction of an estimated $16 million corporate facility for The Health Plan.
When announced in December 2015, the high-profile project almost immediately assumed life as the thing which will bring the rest of it back. It has birthed this sensible thought that the establishment of a major, corporate tentpole will incite surrounding business development, attract active individuals to a quiet downtown and realign Wheeling’s sense of self-identity toward something aglow.
Though until construction is capped at the end of the year and the doors open, all hopes are projections made by onlookers. No one actually knows the very appearance of what we’re walking into.
General estimates suggest the managed care provider will sweep an additional 400 members of the workforce into downtown Wheeling, split between the new structure and the neighboring Horne’s Building — where 74 are already at work for the company.
Another 19 full-time positions are listed on The Health Plan’s website.
This influx already persuades private developers and business owners to weigh possible opportunities found in a daytime population who’s steadily employed. Local eatery Vagabond Kitchen recently opened its doors a block away from the new building, while work continues at the former Rogers Hotel for a forthcoming restaurant.
According to Mayor Glenn Elliott, an Ohio-based development firm has its eyes on two city-owned properties at 1107 and 1109 Main St., adjacent to The Health Plan. A commitment between the city and the interested party hasn’t occurred, but Elliott seemed confident word of work was only a matter of time.
Soon, Elliott and The Health Plan CEO James Pennington will head to Charleston to secure an exact amount from the state for a planned paving and streetscaping project in downtown Wheeling, which will complement the new building and benefit the greater downtown.
Paving will encompass Main and Market streets, likely between the Fort Henry Bridge and 16th Street, and it will include all corresponding cross streets. New sidewalks and vegetation are also expected. The cost is, for now, an estimated $7.2 million, and the start date is scheduled for sometime this summer. The city and state of West Virginia will collaborate to finance the project.
A possible downside will likely be an ever-taxed parking system; unless, city leaders resume discussions to address congested street parking and an underutilized garage.
Solutions floated by current members of Wheeling’s Finance Committee and former Mayor Andy McKenzie’s ad hoc parking committee include installing security updates to the Robert C. Byrd Intermodal Transportation Center; raising the fines associated with on-street parking meters to provide incentive for garage usage; and creating a shuttle bus from the Intermodal to various destinations along a possible downtown loop.