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Recreation center in play for future at the Highlands

The Ohio County Development Authority is discussing the viability of constructing an indoor/outdoor recreation center at the Highlands. — Joselyn King

WHEELING — The fun is just starting for a plan to build an indoor/outdoor recreation center at the Highlands.

Ohio County Commissioner Randy Wharton — also president of the Ohio County Development Authority — confirms the county is in preliminary stages of exploring construction of a recreation center somewhere on county-owned property at the Highlands.

The Mills Group architecture and engineering firm of Wheeling has been hired to study how a recreation center building there should be configured, Wharton said. The firm will determine how much of the property should be designated for outdoor recreation, how much for indoor activities and what the demand might be for such an offering in the Ohio Valley.

The Mills Group will come back to the authority with two proposals — one for a 15-acre facility and one for 30 acres. At that time, estimated costs will be presented.

“This is all very preliminary,” Wharton said. “We have thought about it some time and we do have locations where we can do it.”

The authority is looking most closely at an area behind Marquee Cinemas. There are other viable spots available for the project, but a final location has yet to be determined, according to Wharton.

“Having the place is not a problem,” he said.

Once a location is set, the authority next must identify sources of funding. And Wharton said the authority does have the money on hand for the project or would only have to borrow a small amount.

“We’re always turning over cash,” he said. “When we sell property, we take the money and put it back into development and get space ready for the next new tenant. We generate money through normal operations.”

The authority believes the whole idea and concept could be of significant benefit to the Highlands, according to Wharton.

“These kinds of facilities that have indoor facilities will be used all year-round,” he said. “People travel all over the country for travel sports — soccer, indoor volleyball and basketball. And it makes sense to have area outside, and locker rooms.”

What the facility won’t have is an ice rink, Wharton said.

He expects many people locally would use the recreation center, but that tournaments there would attract people from outside the local region who might “stay a couple of days” in local hotels.

“Our goal is to have it become a destination,” Wharton said. “If the kids are coming here for a tournament, the parents are looking for things to do. They just might go to Oglebay, or to Wheeling Island to see the dog racing. It definitely fits into our area, and could be a generator of traffic.”

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