HUNTINGTON — Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said cleaning up part of the Flint Group Pigments site is another step closer to redeveloping a large swath of blighted and underused properties in the city’s Highlawn neighborhood.

Meanwhile, there’s six months left on an option for the Huntington Municipal Development Authority to purchase the former Ingram Barge property, located along the Ohio River. This site, running from 25th Street to 27th Street, has been eyed to build a Polymer Tech Center after Huntington-based polymer conversion company, Rubberlite Inc., expressed interest in building an advanced research and development center.

However, what plans the city has for the Flint Group Pigments is not concrete. Earlier this month, HMDA board members agreed to purchase 8 acres of the property on 5th Avenue for $1.2 million. Provisions in the agreement stipulate if the property is found not environmentally suitable at any time during the next 90 days, the deal could be called off and the money refunded.

The Flint Group Pigments site goes in hand with plans to transform more than 75 acres of brownfield properties into usable space. The entire area, known as the Highlawn brownfields, encompasses 27th Street to 20th Street between 3rd Avenue and the Ohio River and includes the former Ingram Barge site, the McGinnis property and the ACF complex.

“We expect somewhere between 5th Avenue and the river that we will have a baseball stadium built. I expect it will have a hotel built. I expect to see commercial and retail built,” Williams said. “I also expect research and development, and that it could entail biomedical engineering.”

Williams said the completion of this plan, to become known as the Huntington Innovation Zone, would be a “game changer” for the city, reclaiming a neglected neighborhood situated in a prime location with river access and close proximity to Marshall University.

Huntington will be an example to “cities throughout Appalachia for how you can turn your economy around from a coal-dependent economy to one that will still benefit from the largest inland water port in the nation.”

The plans for the Huntington Innovation Zone started to come together in 2014, after Williams visited the Mayors’ Institute on City Design Conference in Tampa, Florida, where he made a pitch similar to the TV show “Shark Tank.” He stood before several city planners, landscape architects, architectural engineers and environmental engineers and showed them a slideshow presentation about the brownfields, including pictures of flooding that occurs on predominately on 24th Street, 5th Avenue and 3rd Avenue.

The presentation was supposed to last 45 minutes, but Williams said it ended up going an hour and 30 minutes because the city designers were so interested in the properties’ potential. The engineers pointed out water has nowhere to go in that area with more than 100 acres of asphalt. Williams learned that a city could not only be designed to transform its looks, but also transform its function. The plan to redevelop the properties includes a stormwater management landscape.

Williams said the city’s role is to now clean up the Flint Group Pigments property and push it for development prospects. They must also acquire and clean up the former Ingram Barge site, the McGinnis property and the ACF complex.

Developing these properties would place Huntington on par with other coal-centered cities that transformed into hubs for industry and biomedical research.

“I’m absolutely convinced that Huntington becomes equated to Lexington, Kentucky, in terms of our diversified economy,” Williams said. “I’m not projecting we are going to growing to size of Lexington, but Lexington has a lot of sizzle to its name.”

In 2016, HMDA board members agreed to make a nonrefundable transfer of $100,000 to the Ingram Marine Group in order to begin negations for the estimated $2 million it will take to purchase the 27-acre property. Williams said the city has six months left to make the deal. The Ingram Marine Group had operated a barge terminal and coal dock facility at the site until 2009.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.

Source: The Associated Press