Health Plan: 325 more workers in downtown by January
WHEELING — As contractors put the finishing touches on the first brand new building to grace downtown in decades, officials with The Health Plan hope their headquarters will help the city grow and prosper in symmetry with the firm.
With about 325 full-time workers set to join the company’s roughly 70 employees already at the former Horne’s building on Main Street, The Health Plan will have about 400 people working in the 1100 block of Main and Market streets. Company Marketing Director Wendy Hodorowski said the new, four-story, 53,000-square-foot building should be ready for some of the workers to move in before the end of the year, with the remainder coming in January.
“I think everybody is excited to get going. It should be a boost for Wheeling,” Hodorowski said.
According to Hodorowski, most of the new employees will house their vehicles in one of the city’s parking garages. To help transport workers from their garages to the worksite, a 24-passenger trolley will loop from 10th Street to 22nd Street during peak times when the workers are coming and going. The Ohio Valley Regional Transportation Authority agreed to spend $60,000 to for the trolley to begin its run in January.
“We will have people come in as early as 6 a.m.,” Hodorowski said, though adding regular business hours when the building will be open to the public will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“We have clients all over the country,” she added.
Also, partially to accommodate more foot traffic in the downtown area, members of Wheeling City Council plan to pass an ordinance to require those who own buildings in commercial areas to remove snow and ice from the sidewalks in a prompt manner. Failure to do so could result in city employees showing up to do the work, with charges of $175 per labor hour, imposed on the building owner — if the ordinance passes in its current form.
“We’ll have 25 or so spaces at the site for customers and some employees,” Hodorowski said.
However, the office will not be open to those planning to make payments on bills, she said. Instead, there will be a “lock box,” into which customers can deposit payments.
The Health Plan will operate in an area that once thrived with retail activity in the form of stores such as G.C. Murphy, Rite Aid, Feet First and Downtown Wheeling Antiques. Gradually, due to changing shopping patterns throughout the Upper Ohio Valley, the businesses vacated their buildings.
By the mid-2000s, the buildings in the 1100 block of Main and Market streets had fallen into significant disrepair. For several years, partially to appease those who appreciated the history of the structures, city leaders waited to see if they could attract commercial developers to renovate these buildings. Though some expressed interest in this, their efforts never materialized.
Eventually, the city council, led by former Mayor Andy McKenzie, voted to use tax increment financing to purchase and demolish most of the 1100 block buildings. Officials later purchased and demolished three other buildings that were not part of the original agreement 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 health care provider paid nothing for the Wheeling land.
Mayor Glenn Elliott and several new council members took office July 1, 2016. Elliott said he is not sure if he and the new members of council would have taken the action previous council members took to bring The Health Plan to downtown Wheeling, but acknowledges the potential benefits.
“We have quite a few employees who already live in Wheeling — mostly in the Centre Market or North Wheeling areas,” Hodorowski said.
“It is possible that some of them may want to live closer to their jobs,” she added.
The Health Plan employees will join those already working with companies such as Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, Williams Lea Tag, Ohio Valley Medical Center, Ogden Newspapers, numerous banking facilities, and many others in the downtown and Center Wheeling areas.
At the same time, there are about 50 people on a waiting list for the 73-unit Boury Lofts apartment complex, while new housing developments are potentially in the works for several other downtown structures, including the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel building, the Flatiron Building and the former Gerrero Music building.
Also, this means there will be an entirely new group of working people in downtown Wheeling during the daytime hours through the week. This could help generate other business in the downtown area, as many of these workers will be looking to eat breakfast or lunch during the day, or even for a spot to do some shopping while on break.
“I wouldn’t call it a silver bullet, but it could definitely help us,” Matt Welsch, owner and chef at the Vagabond Kitchen at the corner of 12th and Market streets said of The Health Plan. “Anytime you have more people in downtown Wheeling, it’s got to be a plus.”
After The Health Plan vacates its two buildings near St. Clairsville, Belmont County officials plan to create a consolidated court system on the campus. County commissioners recently agreed to pay $3.3 million for the structures.