Connors Part of Downtown Growth

Dean Connors once was best known in the Wheeling area as the wig-wearing, head-bangin’ drummer for the local tribute band “Tongue-n’-Cheek,” but these days he has shed the fake locks for a businessman’s attire as the proprietor of CMS Bankcard Services in the Mull Center and the owner of three downtown properties.

“Not too long ago, though, you couldn’t have given me one of these buildings,” Connors admitted. “There was no reason to even think about buying a building in downtown Wheeling, but that all changed once The Health Plan was announced by [former] Mayor [Andy] McKenzie a couple of years ago.

“This all started with me deciding to move my CMS Bankcard Services offices into the Mull Center in downtown,” he explained. “I also manage my rental properties I have in Ohio out of that office as well as whatever else I may be doing for the bands I’m involved with.”

The first structure purchased by Connors was this one in Market Plaza.

Since then, Connors has continued gaining clients for his ATMs and debit/credit card machines, but this entrepreneur is now also the owner of three properties in downtown Wheeling. The first two he purchased face Market Plaza, and the third is located at 1035 Chapline St. and was the longtime location of Stenger Office Supplies and, most recently, Linn Pottery.

“I purchased the first property after my sister [Joelle] telling me about it because there was an auction, and there wasn’t a lot of attention,” said Connors, a 1987 graduate of Buckeye South High. “So, the auction had come and gone, and the building was still for sale, so I went to take a look at it for myself.

“Keep in mind, this was taking place at the time just after the announcement that The Health Plan was coming to downtown Wheeling, and that’s one of the reasons that by the time I was on the second floor of the building, I looked at the realtor and said I was in. Once we closed on it, I really didn’t have to do much to it. It was in pretty good condition already, and it’s the home of Mmm … Popcorn, and there’s a two-floor apartment on the second and third floors.”

Dave McFarland’s Mmm … Popcorn has operated the business in Market Plaza for more than two years.

The second structure, situated at 25 – 11th St., has housed everything from a travel agency to a T-shirt shop and is now home to the Wilbraham, Lawler, and Buba law firm.

“It was initially built as a bank, and the vault is still in the bank. Granted, it looks like it was a pretty small bank compared to what we are used to these days, but that’s how they did things at that time,” Connors said. “Now, the third and fourth floors right now are not usable because of the new codes that we have today, so those floors are where you can have things, but they can’t be occupied until a fire escape is installed.

“We did have to do a decent amount of renovating to that one, and I now have a law firm in the building,” he continued. “It is located right across 11th Street from the entrance to the Hornes Building, and that means these two properties are right in the middle of all of this positive movement we now have in downtown.”

The Chapline Street property is larger than the first two combined, but the property also is in need of emergency exits for the top three floors. Connors explained he is actively investigating how to follow the codes so he can attract more tenants. At this time, the Information Hotline operates on the first floor.

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When Connors purchased this building, it was vacant, but now the first two floors are occupied by a long-term tenant.

“I had mentioned to (Wheeling economic development specialist) Kurt Zende that I was keeping my eyes open for a third property, and he pointed out the building where Linn Pottery operated for a few years,” said Connors, who earned two undergraduate degrees from California University of Pennsylvania. “It’s three stories with a full basement, and each floor is 1,920 square feet.

“It was very well maintained through the years, and there’s been some remodeling that has taken place through the years. It’s really in fantastic condition,” he said. “The building does need a second means of egress to have tenants on the top floors, and that’s something we are working toward right now. At this time, though, we do have a tenant on the first floor, and that’s the ladies with the Information Helpline that really does assist a lot of people in this area.”

Connors, who recently accepted a position on Mayor Glenn Elliott’s new ad-hoc committee that will examine realistic ways to improve Heritage Port, has witnessed the early economic impact associated with The Health Plan development despite snowy conditions and frigid temperatures in the Wheeling area during the first month of 2018. Not only are available parking spaces in proximity to the new headquarters rare, but lunch crowds at Tito’s Sloppy Dogz, the Bridge Tavern, and at the Vagabond Kitchen have been larger than in 2017.

Rose Vescia, a paralegal for the Wilbraham, Lawler & Buba law firm now reports to work at 25 11th Street.

“There’s been a big difference in the foot traffic now that most of the new Health Plan employees have moved into the headquarters,” Connors said. “There is not a parking spot to be found in the downtown now, and that’s why I just love when people complain when new parking lots replace the old, demolished buildings. I do believe more parking is necessary, and that’s why I hope someone builds a new parking garage in the area.

“I’m excited to see what the sidewalks in the downtown will look like when the weather warms up and more people are out and about for whatever reasons,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing how the private sector reacts as far as new businesses.”

That’s why a fourth building is not out of the question. Connors, a resident of Rayland, Ohio, has invested close to $500,000 thus far, and he remains confident the risk and the wait will be worth the anxiety.

Angela Goodson, executive director of the Information Hotline at 1035 Chapline Street, loves the first-floor space the organization moved into recently.

“I believe this is now taking place because of the work that our past city leaders have accomplished and because the current leadership seems to be going in the right direction. Now, what’s next? I can’t wait to find out the answer to that question because I would give anything to have a five-minute peek from five years from now so I can see what it’s going to look like.

“I believe that positive movement is going to continue, and I’ve purchased what I have purchased because I decided I wanted to be involved with it,” he continued. “And, hey, I still have that wig I wore with the band. You just never know when that wig might come out of retirement to celebrate the success of downtown Wheeling.”

(Photos provided by Dean Connors)