New Albany's village center looks quite different since the Philip Heit Center for Healthy New Albany officially opened at 150 W. Main St. in January 2015, and some of that might have to do with the center itself.

The first and second phases of the village center's Market and Main development, which totals more than 70,000 square feet, came after the Heit Center was under construction, said city spokesman Scott McAfee. The foot traffic that resulted from the services offered by the center was an important part of that development, he said.

New Albany paid about $12.4 million for the center's construction on land donated by the New Albany Co. The Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center and Nationwide Children's Hospital signed multiyear leases to pay back the city's costs in 16 years.

In its 2011 strategic plan, the city had identified the need for a health and wellness center, McAfee said.

The necessity arose from the city's core values: lifelong learning, health and wellness, culture and the arts and environmental sustainability, McAfee said. City leaders at that time were trying to develop projects that would spur more development in the village center, which included the New Albany branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library and the Jeanne B. McCoy Community Center for the Arts.

The city decided against a traditional community center to avoid costing taxpayers additional money, he said, and it decided to pursue partnerships instead to create health and fitness services in one building.

"The Heit Center has become New Albany's holistic community anchor for health and wellness," McAfee said.

The city marked the Heit Center's five-year anniversary with a Jan. 8 celebration. But years before ground was broken in August 2013, the nonprofit organization that would be part of the center's name was just getting off the ground.

Healthy New Albany was founded in 2010, evolving from such community efforts as the New Albany Walking Classic, the weekly farmers market and the community garden, said Phil Heit, its founder and a local health advocate. Its mission is to promote health programs and services to the community, with a focus on prevention instead of intervention, he said.

In its infancy, Heit conducted Healthy New Albany's business from the Starbucks on Market Street, he said. Having a brick-and-mortar location in the Heit Center gave Healthy New Albany a platform from which it could introduce and conduct programs and services in the community, he said.

Now the organization influences all ages with programs primarily held in the Heit Center, from yoga for mothers and babies to Studio 55+, a city-funded initiative featuring weekly activities for those 55 and older, Heit said.

For Heit, the influence the Heit Center has had on the community can be found anecdotally. Residents often come up to him in tears, thanking him for changing their lives, he said.

"That, to me, is what it's all about," Heit said.

New Albany's wellness movement began with Heit and Healthy New Albany, said Dan Like, the Wexner Medical Center's director of ambulatory services.

The organization's presence in New Albany made Ohio State even more interested in partnering with the city on the Heit Center, he said.

"There was already so much momentum toward wellness and health," Like said.

The Heit Center also aligned with Ohio State's mission to improve lives and focus on health and prevention, he said. The city's mission, he said, aligned with Ohio State's.

Ohio State manages the fitness center portion of the Heit Center via a contract with Integrated Wellness Partners, Like said. He said the fitness center has 2,900 to 3,000 members.

Ohio State's presence in the center also includes primary-care and sports-medicine services and physical therapy, he said.

The Heit Center, Like said, has become a physical home for health and wellness for the city of New Albany, and its services have reached countless people, many of whom have used the center to prevent health complications or improve their lifestyles after a health issue, such as a heart attack, he said.

Nationwide Children's Hospital came on board as a partner because leaders were attracted to the idea of creating a culture of health, including regular exercise and nutritious eating, said Patty McClimon, senior vice president of planning and facilities for the hospital.

Nationwide leaders believe in the integrative model the Heit Center provides, McClimon said. The organization provides orthopedic and sports medicine at the Heit Center, as well as ongoing therapy, she said.

Children from a variety of areas visit the Heit Center for these services, McClimon said, and when they go to the Heit Center, they have the opportunity to learn more about the healthful culture the center exhibits.

Overall, the Heit Center has aided New Albany in economic development, increasing the healthful culture in the community and bringing young people to the center, she said.

"We look forward to the next five years," McClimon said.

For additional information about the Heit Center, go to heitcenter.com.

For information about how to join the fitness center, go to wexnermedical.osu.edu/health-and-fitness.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah