As the city of Huntington finds its way out of a budget crisis that’s caused 24 positions to be cut in just the last week, there’s only a little over two months from finding out if the city will be named America’s Best Community.
In April, Huntington will find out if it’s one of the top three cities in a year-long contest, America’s Best Communities, sponsored by Frontier. The city has been competing against 7 other towns from around the country, and each community presented different projects that were tracked. Depending on that progress, Huntington could be picked as one of the best communities in the country. Third place receives $1 million, second place receives$2 million, and the community that’s picked as the winner takes home $3 million.
Huntington’s proposal, called the Huntington Innovation Project includes plans to jumpstart renovation in three neighborhoods. On the east end along the river, the city is working to turn around the Highlawn neighborhood which deals with old industrial sites. On the west end, the focus will be on the development of the West Edge factory -- a work development incubator. The third neighborhood project involves the Fairfield neighborhood. The fourth piece to the city’s proposal is to develop a better broadband system. Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said he feels the contest has created the momentum he’d hoped for.
"On getting any project moving forward there is a level of inertia to get moving forward and now the value we have is in getting the community involved, in Hal Greer in the Fairfield area and the West End.," Williams said. "The value to our city is that it covers the entire city East to West."
Each project has succeeded in finding federal and private funds that have served to get each project started, including the West Edge workforce development project in the West End of Huntington. It’s attracted over $2.5 million in grants for projects like solar training.
In the Fairfield area, the city hopes to create a Health Innovation Corridor. The plan is to bring together Cabell Huntington Hospital and Marshall University. Both entities bookend the neighborhood, which was once known for crime. It also impacts the Northcott Court housing projects that are in the process of being torn down.
As Huntington tries to renovate and revamp the area, they’ve created the Fairfield Alliance, bringing together businesses and community members. That’s where Phoebe Patton Randolph comes in, she works at Edward Tucker Architects. The firm has helped instigate discussion on how the area can be changed.
"What is the nature of development along the corridor and how can we acknowledge that we’re taking a major thoroughfare into the city, that goes through this established, historic neighborhood in our city and rather than just bypassing that, how do we celebrate it and integrate it with the fabric of city," Patton Randolph said.
Mayor Williams said he doesn’t think the city’s recent budget struggles should hurt the chances of winning the contest, because he said there are issues that cities all over the country have to deal with.
"When I graduated from high school I received from the church this little book, and one of the chapters in it was titled, all sunshine makes a dessert," Williams said. "You’re going to have some rainy days, but those rainy days allow for the flowers and the trees to bloom. If you’re going to be America’s Best Community, you need to know how to take a hit and spin off it and continue on down the field."
The winner will be announced April 19th.