By Steve Novotney
Primanti’s opened at The Highlands more than a week ago, and Chipotle is expected to begin serving at some point this winter.
And I will ride the nine miles from my house to The Highlands, and I will ride the nine miles to the mall when Chipotle opens.
That’s because the best part is both eateries will draw diners from both sides of the Ohio River to drive over the Fort Henry Bridge to get what they want, and those responsible for these development decisions should continue making efforts not to duplicate “destination locations.”
Yes, it is going to take place at times because of business models employed by several big-box retailers like the Walmarts of the world, but for the most part the developers from two different counties in two different states have stayed away from two Red Lobsters, two Cheddars, two Targets, two Boscov’s, or two Cabela’s.
It’s on purpose, according to commissioners in Ohio and Belmont counties.
“As far as I’m concerned, the Ohio River is just that, the Ohio River,” said Belmont County Commissioner Matt Coffland. “My entire life we have gone to the stores that had what we needed and restaurants with the food we wanted to eat, and it’s never depended on what state the store or the restaurant was in.
“When we go to the conventions in Las Vegas where these people shop for new locations, Belmont County does the best job it can do, and so does Ohio County,” he said. “And the business owners pretty much know what they are looking for when they go to those conventions, and both Belmont County and Ohio County have it – Interstate 70 – so it really comes down to the kind of area they are looking for.”
The two retail areas rest only 18 miles apart. The Ohio Valley Mall and the Ohio Valley Plaza are heavy on jewelry, shoes, and groceries. The Highlands relies more on outdoor outfitting, regional-and-going-national eateries, and clothing. The mall is owned by the Cafaro Co., and the plaza was developed by THF Realty. The Highlands, however, was created and continues to be developed by the Ohio County Development Authority, the “do-business” tentacle of the Ohio County Commission.
In plainer words, government built it.
“The whole area of The Highlands was nothing but a gob pile for the Valley Camp Coal Mine in the 1950s and 1960s, and then it was nothing but an overgrown gob pile after that,” explained Ohio County Commissioner Orphy Klempa. “When the Legislature was in the mode of granting millions for economic development, the commissioners at that time went after, and they got ($35 million) so they could clear and flatten this area for what we see today.
“As far as not duplicating everything, that’s by design,” the commissioner confirmed. “We see what they attract, and we look for something different because our goal is always to reach out to businesses that can offer them a different experience from what they can get somewhere else in the valley.”
That must continue, and that’s because the environment and experience inside a store and restaurant these days mean as much as the décor and the food do.
Think about it … a fishing hook is a fishing hook, but did you see that ginormous catfish in the aquarium?