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Now That Huntington Has Won the America’s Best Communities Competition, Here’s What You Need to

Huntington has officially been named America’s Best Community! That has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

Now that the victory of winning the America’s Best Communities competition and the $3 million grand prize has begun to sink in, you may have questions about what all of this means for Huntington and how the money will be used.

We’ll get to that in just a moment, but first, let’s provide a little background about the America’s Best Communities competition and the path that our community took to win the grand prize.

The competition, sponsored by Frontier Communications, The Weather Channel, DISH Network and CoBank, officially launched in September 2014. It was geared specifically for small towns and cities located within Frontier’s service territory and with a population between 9,500 and 80,000. The goal of the competition was to provide a platform to aid and inspire small communities with their economic revitalization plans.

There WAS NOT an entry fee to join the contest, and any travel costs associated with the contest were paid by the sponsors.

Fifty quarterfinalists were selected from the initial pool of 350-plus applicants based on their ability to demonstrate the greatest potential for revitalization. Those that made it to this round received $50,000 and were required to provide a $15,000 match in community funds. Our community actually raised $22,000 from 15 different individual/corporate donors and community events such as the play “Collis P.” at City Hall. No general fund dollars were used for this match.

Throughout the competition, as other needs arose, individuals/corporations contributed another $11,600 to cover them, such as the banner that was placed across 8th Street. So in total, $33,600 was raised from individuals, corporations and philanthropic institutions.

After the quarterfinal round, the contest was then narrowed to 15 semifinalists and then eight finalists. Huntington received an additional $100,000 for being named one of the finalists in April 2016. In the finalist round, each community was judged on how they could leverage this $100,000 cash award to achieve progress over an 11-month period. More specifically, the communities were judged on achievement of short-term tactics, community engagement and sustainable community revitalization.

After the 11-month period from April 2016 to March of this year, the eight finalists were judged and made presentations on their community revitalizations plan (which occurred yesterday in Denver). Statesboro, Georgia won third place and a $1 million prize, Lake Havasu City, Arizona won second place and a $2 million prize, and Huntington won the $3 million grand prize.

It is important to note that ALL of the winnings and community donations from the America’s Best Communities competition have not been, nor will they be, placed into the general fund. Rather, the money has been and will continue to be maintained by the Foundation for the Tri-State Community Inc., an independent, non-profit, tax-exempt philanthropic corporation – and the community foundation serving the Tri-State area of eastern Kentucky, southwestern West Virginia and southern Ohio.

Lastly, let’s discuss how the America’s Best Communities prize money will be used.

All winnings from the America’s Best Communities competition will be used to advanced Huntington’s community revitalization plan, also known as the Huntington Innovation Project (HIP). This plan is the culmination of three years of hard work by literally hundreds of community members. The four primary components of the plan are:

  • The Highlawn Brownfields project
  • The Fairfield Innovation Corridor
  • West End Revitalization and the West Edge Factory (former Corbin factory)
  • The city’s Gigabit City initiative (expanding high-speed broadband in Huntington)

I encourage you to read this detailed plan, the core of which is about economic revitalization and creating new jobs through innovative methods. I would also like to point you to the section beginning on page 41 titled “Leveraging Additional Investment.” This outlines the fact that since the beginning of the ABC competition, Huntington has secured and leveraged more than $12.7 million in resources for the components of our community revitalization plan. The additional $3 million will allow us to leverage additional state, federal, philanthropic and corporate resources to move these projects forward.


Huntington Crowned Winner of America’s Best Communities Competition

Huntington, West Virginia has proudly claimed the title of “America’s Best Community” after being named the Grand Prize winner in the America’s Best Communities competition, a $10 million community revitalization campaign sponsored by Frontier Communications, DISH Network, CoBank and The Weather Channel.

Launched in September 2014 to inspire revitalization and growth in small towns and rural communities across the country, America’s Best Communities challenged local leaders to bring their neighbors together to envision a stronger future and build a strategy to improve lives and livelihoods. It has served as a catalyst for positive change by awarding seed funding to help communities turn their exceptional ideas from vision to reality.

About 350 communities entered the competition. The field was narrowed to 50 in the quarterfinals, 15 in the semifinals and down eight finalists. Communities advanced in the competition based on the effectiveness of the revitalization plans developed, fine-tuned and implemented over the course of the three-year competition.

The eight finalists gathered April 19, 2017, in Denver, Colorado, the home of sponsoring companies DISH Network and CoBank, to present their revitalization strategies and share progress made in achieving new growth. Following the presentations, the top three were announced during the America’s Best Communities Grand Prize Ceremony.

Huntington won the competition and received the $3 million grand prize. Lake Havasu City, Arizona, won second place and a $2 million prize. Statesboro, Georgia, received $1 million for third place.

“On behalf of all Huntingtonians who worked so hard on this endeavor, we are honored and excited to be named America’s Best Community,” Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said. “Our citizens should stand proud.

“We have been aggressive with our aspirations. Our people believe in the direction we are taking with our community’s revitalization plan and, because of that, they have embraced our commitment to transform Huntington and the broader Appalachian region for the next 50 years.”

After securing the competition’s $3 million grand prize, Huntington is poised to become a gateway for revitalization in the Appalachian region. It will invest in its Huntington Innovation Project (HIP) Plan, which aims to transform distressed neighborhoods, where the old manufacturing and coal-sector economy has declined, into hip hubs for advanced manufacturing, innovative makerspaces and entrepreneurial incubators, healthcare businesses and green community improvements.

“When we launched America’s Best Communities, we hoped to inspire revitalization in small towns and cities across rural America. As we celebrate the culmination of the campaign, it feels like a dream fulfilled,” said Maggie Wilderotter, former CEO of Frontier Communications. “After three years of hard work, and from a pool of about 350 communities, Huntington, West Virginia has earned the title of ‘America’s Best’ — and we’re thrilled to extend our congratulations. With hard work and determination, they have forever changed the trajectory of their community. The America’s Best Communities prize grants they’ve secured will help them continue on the path to prosperity.”

During each phase of America’s Best Communities, the best strategies — those with the most innovative ideas being effectively deployed — were advanced to the next round and awarded funding to accelerate implementation. In April 2015, 50 quarterfinalists were awarded $50,000 each. Then, from the field of 15 semifinalists, eight finalist communities were presented with $100,000 prize grants, with the remaining seven receiving $25,000 to initiate their plans.

Throughout the competition, from its start through the grand prize round, an independent panel of judges reviewed and scored communities’ proposals based on an objective set of criteria to select winners.

The eight finalist communities that gathered in Denver included:

  • Chisago Lakes Area, Minnesota
  • Darrington/Arlington, Washington
  • Huntington, West Virginia
  • Lake Havasu City, Arizona
  • Madison, Indiana
  • Statesboro, Georgia
  • Tualatin, Oregon
  • Valley County, Idaho

By crowdsourcing new ideas to revitalize rural America, the campaign has helped identify innovative solutions that can serve as roadmaps to economic revival for other small and medium-sized communities across the U.S. The competition’s organizers are encouraging local leaders across the country to view the communities’ revitalization plans, which are available publicly at the America’s Best Communities website.

For more on the competition, visit www.americasbestcommunities.com.


Huntington restaurants to promote America’s Best Communities competition

HUNTINGTON – Local restaurants are teaming up to support Huntington’s efforts to win the America’s Best Communities competition.

Starting Oct. 19 and occurring once a month through April, participating restaurants will host ABC8 Restaurant Night. The goal of the recurring event is to generate excitement and community pride during the final months of the competition, said Ava Gibson Bicknell, owner of Savannah’s and co-chairwoman of the ABC8 Restaurant Night Committee.

“Throughout the America’s Best Communities competition, Huntington’s citizens and business community have had several opportunities to get involved and tell the country why our city is such a wonderful place to live, work and play.” Bicknell said. “Huntington is well-known for its eclectic mix of locally-owned restaurants, so we wanted to do our part to help bring home the grand prize.”

During ABC8 Restaurant Night, customers of participating restaurants are encouraged to check in on social media at the restaurant and post why they think Huntington is America’s best community. They are also encouraged to use the hashtags #abc8 and #abc8restaurantnight.

“Community engagement is one of the categories that Huntington will be judged on to determine the winner of the competition,” said Drew Hetzer, owner of Backyard Pizza and Raw Bar and co-chairman of the ABC8 Restaurant Night Committee. “We’re hoping everyone will show their support for Huntington by coming out to all of the participating restaurants and sharing what they love about our community on social media.”

ABC8 Restaurant Night is scheduled for Oct. 19, Nov. 16, Dec. 21, Jan. 18, Feb. 15, March 15 and April 12. Participating restaurants include Savannah’s; Backyard Pizza and Raw Bar; Bittersweet Coffeehouse; Nawab Indian Cuisine; Crumpets & Tea; River and Rail Bakery; 21 at the Frederick; La Famiglia; Central City Café; and Le Bistro.

Participating restaurants are invited to donate a small portion of their proceeds from those days to Huntington’s America’s Best Communities effort, although it is not required.

Restaurants that would like to participate in ABC8 Restaurant Night or have questions are asked to contact Margaret Mary Layne at margaretmarylayne@gmail.com. Restaurants that only serve breakfast and/or lunch are eligible to join.

Huntington is one of eight finalists in the nationwide America’s Best Communities competition, which is sponsored by Frontier Communications, The Weather Channel, DISH and CoBank.

America’s Best Communities is a multi-stage competition that will provide seed money and other support to assist small communities as they develop new economic growth strategies. The top three communities — those with the most innovative proposals being effectively implemented — will share a total of $6 million in prize money. The winning communities will be announced April 26, 2017, and will be awarded $3 million for first place, $2 million for second place and $1 million for third.

For more information about the competition, visit www.americasbestcommunities.com. For more information about Huntington’s community revitalization plan that it submitted to the competition, visit www.cityofhuntington.com.


Public workshop to focus on redeveloping post-industrial properties

Huntington residents will have an opportunity in September to weigh in on the future use of several post-industrial “brownfields” properties throughout the city, especially within the Highlawn neighborhood.

The City of Huntington, Huntington Municipal Development Authority and the consulting firm of Stromberg, Garrigan and Associates will host an interactive workshop for the public at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27, at Community of Grace United Methodist Church, 225 28th St.

The main question that will be asked at the workshop will be, “How should Huntington address its vacant and underutilized industrial and brownfields areas?” A brownfield is a parcel of land devalued by the real or perceived presence of contamination.

The City received funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to come up with a viable redevelopment strategy that links community-driven goals with environmental improvement, resulting in social and economic growth for the city and particularly the Highlawn neighborhood. To accomplish this, city officials, through a competitive bidding process, hired Stromberg, Garrigan and Associates. The consulting firm specializes in urban planning, brownfield redevelopment, landscape architecture and community engagement.

The City of Huntington is currently in the first phase of creating the redevelopment strategy, which includes real estate market data collection and analysis. The second phase includes gathering public input this fall. The third phase will occur in early 2017 and will include focus group review meetings and agency coordination. The fourth and final phase will occur in spring 2017 and will include unveiling the redevelopment strategy and beginning to implement it.

The project study area consists of large industrial sites, as well as commercial, retail, institutional and residential properties between the Ohio River and 3rd Avenue from 13th to 27th streets.

The brownfields redevelopment strategy is a component of the city’s revitalization plan, also known as the Huntington Innovation Project (HIP). The revitalization plan was submitted to the America’s Best Communities competition, of which Huntington is one of eight finalists.

As a finalist, Huntington received a grant prize of $100,000 in May and was given 11 months to begin to implement the HIP plan. The top three communities that make the largest impact and show the greatest potential for achieving sustainable revitalization will be selected as the grand prize winners in spring 2017. The first-place community will receive $3 million, with second place earning $2 million and $1 million for third place.

For more information about the brownfields redevelopment strategy, contact Bryan Chambers, communications director for the City of Huntington, at chambersb@cityofhuntington.com or by calling 304-962-8138. Project and public workshop updates will also be posted online at www.cityofhuntington.com.


Mayor provides update on progress of America’s Best Communities competition

Mayor Steve Williams conducted the first of four quarterly press conferences on Tuesday, June 21, to update the public on the city’s revitalization plan that it submitted for the America’s Best Communities competition and discuss ways Huntington residents can get involved in the city’s efforts to win the competition.

Huntington was named one of eight finalists in the competition in late April at the America’s Best Communities Summit in Durham, North Carolina. The competition aims to inspire economic revitalization in small towns and cities across the country. It is sponsored by Frontier Communications, The Weather Channel, DISH Network and CoBank.

As a finalist, Huntington received a grant prize of $100,000 and was given 11 months to begin to implement its community revitalization plan, known as the Huntington Innovation Project, or HIP.

The top three communities that make the largest impact and show the greatest potential for achieving sustainable revitalization will be selected as the grand prize winners in March 2017. The top community will receive $3 million, with second place earning $2 million and $1 million for third place.

Here is how the public can get involved in Huntington’s efforts to win the competition as well as an update on the revitalization plan:

1.) Public Engagement Plan

A.) Three community engagement teams have been formed:

I.) Reader Team: Members of this team will read the plans of the seven other finalists and list proposed strategies for improving Huntington’s plan based on the strengths of the other finalists.

II.) Ambassador Team: Members of this team will have special training on the HIP Plan and serve as ambassadors to the rest of the community. Tyson Compton, executive director of the Cabell-Huntington Convention and Visitors Bureau, will chair this team.

III.) Social Media Team: Members of this team are working under the direction of City of Huntington Communications Director Bryan Chambers and will be responsible for sharing updates about the competition, the HIP plan and other positive Huntington stories by using the hashtags #ABC8 and #MakeNoLittlePlans.

Anyone who is interested in serving on these teams can call Bryan Chambers at 304.962.8138 or email chambersb@cityofhuntington.com.

IV.) ABC-HIP Plan Website: There is now a section on the city’s website (www.cityofhuntington.com) that serves as a one-stop shop for the latest information on the ABC competition and the HIP Plan. It includes blog posts, news articles and photos. You can also read the HIP Plan in its entirety.

V.) Press Conferences: This is the first of four quarterly press conferences that the city will conduct leading up to the announcement of the three ABC grand prize winners in April 2017. Each press conference will be scheduled one to two weeks prior to each quarterly report that will be due to the America’s Best Communities competition.

2.) Events

A.) #ABC8 Social Media Challenge: Later this summer or early fall, there will be a fun, community-wide challenge to raise awareness of America’s Best Communities and the HIP Plan on social media. The winner will receive a cash prize.

B.) #ABC8 Restaurant Night: Once a month from July through April 2017, a participating restaurant will host an “#ABC8 Restaurant Night” with a small percentage of sales donated to the HIP Projects. Drew Hetzer, owner of Backyard Pizza, and Ava Bicknell, owner of Savannah’s, have agreed to lead this effort.

3.) Donations

A.) The City is setting up the following funds with Foundation for the Tri-State Community to allow individuals and corporations to donate to the HIP Plan:

  • Planning/Design
  • Livability
  • Infrastructure
  • Landscaping
  • Construction

B.) Those who are interested in donating can call the FTSC at 606-324-3888 or email info@tristatefoundation.org.

4.) Current Progress

A.) Teams for each of the four components of the HIP Plan – Highlawn Brownfields, Hal Greer Boulevard Corridor, West End and implementing high-speed broadband -- are already in existence and are working hard.

B.) The $100,000 prize money from being selected as an ABC Finalist will be used to move these projects along. The city’s ABC leadership team is engaging the National Development Council to build a funding plan for each project.

C.) The ABC leadership team held working meetings with Congressman Evan Jenkins and community leaders immediately following the ABC Summit in April to discuss how Jenkins can help.

D.) The city’s ABC leadership team is developing a grant application with the Appalachian Regional Commission for $1 million to help fund the acquisition of the first parcel of the Highlawn Brownfields site and have held meetings and are proceeding with the three EPA brownfield grants which will identify what needs to be cleaned up as well as the best potential uses for the property.

E.) The city’s ABC leadership team has submitted a strong application to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Every Place Counts Challenge which, if Huntington wins, will bring in a team of experts to help come up with solutions for the Hal Greer Boulevard Corridor. The team has also formed a work group for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Choice Neighborhood grant in Fairfield West.

F.) The city’s ABC leadership team has formed a team of experts for the “Gigabit City” initiative to begin the process of developing an RFP for the implementation of high-speed broadband.

G.) At the West Edge Factory in Westmoreland, the Coalfield Development Corporation will be honoring its first 20 graduates from the Solar Training Institute certified technician program on June 22, 2016.

H.) The city is working on a TIGER Planning Grant award with the KYOVA Interstate Planning Commission that is providing valuable information for transportation planning within the project areas.


City kicks off Brownfields Planning and Redevelopment Project in Highlawn

Mayor Steve Williams, the Huntington Municipal Development Authority and consultants with the Pennsylvania-based firm Stromberg/Garrigan & Associates hosted a public meeting Tuesday, May 17, 2016, at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena Conference Center to kick off the city's Brownfields Planning and Redevelopment Project in the Highlawn neighborhood.

The meeting provided an overview of the work to be performed under the U.S. EPA-funded effort. The City of Huntington received three EPA grants totaling $600,000 in 2015. Two of the grants are to assess properties that may have been adversely affected by petroleum and other hazardous substances. The third is a Brownfields Area-Wide Planning grant that will focus on land use, zoning and conducting a market analysis that will evaluate varying types of redevelopment opportunities, among other things. Huntington was one of only 20 communities nationwide last year to receive a Brownfields Area-Wide Planning grant from the EPA.

The general boundaries of the brownfields area are from the Ohio River to 3rd Avenue between 20th and 27th streets. Mayor Williams said the Highlawn Brownfields area, which consists of roughly 75 acres of flat land that has been used for heavy industrial purposes for more than 140 years, is primed for revitalization and could trigger job creation from research and development facilities that could locate in the area. The residential area of Highlawn also could benefit because the planning process will involve eliminating stormwater flooding on 3rd and 5th avenues and adding greenspace.

"There's an opportunity to the west of the brownfields area with Marshall University busting at the seams," Mayor Williams said. "To the east, we have the well-established Highlawn neighborhood, which because of a lack of jobs, has seen a rate of decline that simply isn't acceptable. Now, imagine pedestrian traffic from the neighborhood being drawn toward Marshall along a tree-lined 3rd Avenue and Marshall students being drawn toward Highlawn. That's the vision we want to accomplish. By this time next year, we will know from the planning process what the true possibilities are. A journey of 100 miles, even 1,000 miles, begins with the first step. This meeting is the first step."

The consultants hired by the city to assist with administering the grants will host meetings with key stakeholders and the public over the next several months to gain feedback. They are expected to complete historical use data and other background work on the properties by mid- to late summer and will conduct a multi-day public workshop in late September. A specific reuse plan is expected to be completed by early 2017.

The Highlawn Brownfields Area is a major component of the city’s community revitalization plan, known as the Huntington Innovation Project (HIP). The plan was submitted as part of Huntington’s application to win the America’s Best Communities competition, sponsored by Frontier Communications, The Weather Channel, DISH and CoBank. Huntington was named one of eight finalists in the competition in April and now has 11 months to begin implementing the plan. ‪