By JOSEPHINE MENDEZ
CEREDO, W.Va. — When it comes to revitalizing and rejuvenating the city of Huntington, local leaders have quite a plan.
From targeting three struggling neighborhoods to linking the city with high-speed broadband, city leaders say the purpose of the plan, known as the Huntington Innovation Project (HIP), is not just to transform the city but also the entire Appalachian region.
“We can accomplish anything we set our minds to as long as we believe, stand together with one another and commit ourselves,” said Huntington Mayor Steve Williams.
When Williams and other members of the America’s Best Communities leadership team returned to Huntington on Thursday afternoon, they were greeted by a room full of city leaders and community members chanting, “America’s Best Community.”
Williams said the show of support Thursday and throughout the past three years of the competition is indicative of how the city has embraced this plan for change.
“There is something special that is happening in this community in the midst of all the difficulties,” he said. “We are blessed beyond imagination.”
But even with the title of America’s Best Community, Williams said the city is not without its faults.
“‘America’s Best Community’ does not mean that we don’t have problems,” he said. “The ones that are the best are the ones that identify what needs to be done, rolls up their sleeves and goes out and gets it done.”
Williams said one of the main reasons the city is so well known for its shortcomings is because it does not shy away from them.
“The reason that we’ve come to the forefront is that we’ve been aggressive in addressing the issues,” he said. “We have been very vocal and upfront about our problems. You’ve heard me say it before: You name it and you can own it.”
To those who don’t think Huntington is deserving of such recognition, Williams said he hopes they will choose to embrace the award as their own.
“People in Huntington have been told time and time again you’re the most obese, the most unhealthy, the most unhappy, you have the highest level of drug instances, but what I would say to them is that when this city squares its shoulders, it can accomplish anything,” he said. “For those people who are doubting how or why, I would encourage them to be brave enough to embrace what we are trying to do, because this (plan) is intended to fix (the city’s problems).”
Over the course of the past three years, the central theme of the competition was to develop and implement a plan to revitalize the city. While the competition may be over, Williams said the work isn’t.
“Just because the competition is done does not mean that we switch focus to something else,” he said. “We keep doing those things that we know that we have to do.”
In the coming months and years, Williams said the city is looking to make great strides on each of the projects.
In Fairfield along Hal Greer Boulevard, the demolition of Northcott Court is almost halfway complete. Williams said they are already talking with developers in the hopes of building a grocery store as well as more retail and commercial spaces.
Upcoming plans for the West End River-to-Rail Revitalization include using Economic Development Administration grants, HUD loan guarantees, secured bank lending and other resources for a $2 million restoration of the old garment factory for the envisioned West Edge Factory.
For the implementation of broadband, known in the HIP as Gigabit City, Huntington will look to partner with private-sector broadband developers as well as secure funding for the expected $24 million project.
Williams said they will use the $3 million grand prize to continue advancing these projects. He said the money can also be used to leverage additional funds. Since the launch of the ABC competition, the city has leveraged $12.7 million in resources for its revitalization plan.
As part of the contest, Williams said each city had to partner with a nonprofit that would serve as the recipient for the prize money. Per this stipulation, the city partnered with the Foundation for the Tri-State, which maintains possession of all the prize money until it is ready for use.
The competition was sponsored by Frontier Communications, Dish Network, CoBank and The Weather Channel. About 350 communities entered the competition in 2015.
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