WHEELING - For many years in Ohio County before the arrival of The Highlands, county Commissioner Orphy Klempa had nowhere to buy underwear.
This is what Klempa says he uses as an example of how the retail development has improved his quality of life and provided a new direction for retail in the county.
The site was developed by the county's development arm, the Ohio County Development Authority, of which Klempa was first a member before he also became a county commissioner in January.
"It's brought major retail back to Ohio County," he said. "The Highlands is a huge asset for everyone in Ohio County and the region. We are blessed to have it."
Klempa noted Cabela's, the site's anchor store, still continues to draw people from across the country. Though Charleston, W.Va., is home to a new, scaled-down Cabela's, Klempa said that store is much smaller than Ohio County's and has less of a selection.
"It doesn't compare to our Cabela's - it's still a major destination," he said. "We also have Wal-Mart, Target and J.C. Penney that continue to draw a lot of local people and out-of-towners that come to the area."
It's not uncommon to count as many or more Pennsylvania license plates at The Highlands than those from West Virginia. Many Ohio plates also can be seen at any given time.
The site also has created about 3,400 jobs and is home to about 50 businesses. While there was a slowdown in construction during the recession, Klempa said he hopes as the economy improves the site can continue to be expanded. He believes a second Interstate 70 interchange will help with that expansion, but for now the money is not available at the state level.
"That would open up future development," he said.
Klempa said plans for a Wild Escape Theme Park were stalled by the slow economy. The OCDA, he noted, wanted to make sure it didn't jeopardize development of the site by jumping into a large project too soon. He said there still are future plans for some sort of water park or recreation for the site. But whether it will be Wild Escape remains to be seen.
"During the economic downturn ... like all people and quasi public/private groups, we were trying to hang on to what we have and move on to prosperous times," he added.
Last year, a Logan's Roadhouse opened, which has become a popular attraction. A number of energy and pipeline companies also are leasing property there, and Silgan Plastics was able to remain in the area by locating a warehouse at The Highlands. Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield also relocated from Center Wheeling to The Highlands.