WHEELING, W.Va. - Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield West Virginia is slated to open a 20,000-square-foot office in the Town Center section of The Highlands.
Officials with a real estate company that helped Highmark secure the space, Jones Lang LaSalle, said Pittsburgh-based Highmark will move into the space once interior construction is completed by year's end. Highmark's rental agreement was approved July 18 by the Ohio County Development Authority, the Ohio County Commission's development arm.
Fred Earley, president of Highmark BCBS West Virginia, said the company's existing office at 20th and Chapline streets will be closed and the workers moved to the new space at The Highlands. He said the lease at the existing Wheeling office was expiring.
''We hope to be in there before the end of the year. We looked at a lot of different space options in the downtown and The Highlands,'' Earley said. ''This is a brand new, state-of-the-art quality facility.''
Earley said on any given day between 100 and 110 people will be working at the Highlands office. And 30 additional Wheeling employees will continue to work from home.
As city of Wheeling officials make plans to redevelop the 1100 block of the downtown where several old buildings are under demolition, Mayor Andy McKenzie said he did not know whether there was an effort to keep Highmark in the city.
He referred questions to the Regional Economic Development Partnership.
McKenzie said it was his understanding that Highmark was moving because it needed less space because it was downsizing.
Earley countered that it is true that less space will be used at The Highlands, but the same number of employees will be working at the new office.
''Over the years there has been a decrease in employees at all our locations ... but we're not reducing the work force in Wheeling,'' Earley said.
McKenzie said he was pleased Highmark chose to stay in West Virginia.
"It's great that they stayed in our community," he said.
Regarding the potential impact on the city's tax base, McKenzie said "there's probably not a week that goes by" that businesses don't open or close in the city.
He said the building's owners are seeking new tenants and that he's looking forward to seeing new development there in the future.
"That's just the normal ebb and flow of business," he said.
Highmark's new office is expected to occupy space below the AT&T call center and next to the Sears Hometown store. That section of the development is home to a mix of retail and office space - from Howard's Diamond Center to Nini's Treasures to the West Liberty University Highlands Center and Technology Services Group. One of the first office tenants at the Town Center was the AT&T call center, which opened in 2008.