People do it all the time when they travel. They stumble across a cool restaurant, shop or museum in another city and say to themselves, “I wish we had one of these back home.” Or they get together with friends and let their imaginations run wild and ask, “You know what would be great? If Huntington had a (fill in the blank).”
Well, this gave us an idea. Why not ask our readers what they wish we had in Huntington? And that’s exactly what we did. In January, we decided to pose the following question to our readers: “What does Huntington need?” We sent out more than 1,000 emails to some of our subscribers both near and far and, for good measure, posted the same question online where we have more than 5,000 followers.
We knew some of the responses we’d get: better jobs, more people, fewer potholes. But we were in for some surprises, too. From the practical, like increased police presence downtown, to the playful, like water taxis on the Ohio River, here are the things you said would make Huntington an even better place to live, work and play.
A Rejuvenated Riverfront
Here’s an idea that holds water. Huntington’s location on the Ohio River isn’t capitalized upon nearly enough, and we need better access to the river for both recreation and retail. In fact, a rejuvenated riverfront was the number one most suggested idea we received from our readers. Their ideas included murals on the floodwall, like in nearby river cities Catlettsburg and Portsmouth; a riverboat casino; restaurants and shops along the river with water taxis for waterfront-hopping; and a wide, well-lit boardwalk. A restaurant built over the flood wall — an idea of late Huntington architect E. Keith Dean, husband of former mayor Jean Dean — would provide a unique dining destination with a beautiful view.
Tear Down the Wall
Many of you questioned whether our floodwall, which has separated the city from the river since 1943, is even necessary today. You cited modern engineering advances, such as locks and dams, and mobile floodwall technology as viable alternatives to the massive concrete barrier.
Scores of people said that nothing would do more to revitalize the economies of both Huntington and Charleston than a regional airport. The idea was first proposed in the 1960s when a Midway Jetport was seriously considered. It was debated again in 2001, but never got off the ground. In both instances, Cabell and Putnam counties were enthusiastic supporters while Kanawha County was adamantly opposed. As one Charleston leader stated, “If a regional airport is to be built in West Virginia, then it must be in Kanawha County.” The problem is there is no flat land there. It’s time to put aside petty tribalism and build a large, modern airport in Putnam County.
Coming in at number two on the list of ideas submitted by readers was an increase in local tourism. Your suggestions were vast and varied, but the theme was consistent: Huntington needs a tourist attraction that will draw in tour buses, school groups and other visitors. We heard some great ideas: What about a zoo, a riverfront aquarium or a children’s museum like COSI? Other ideas included an indoor water park or an indoor entertainment complex with activities like bowling, basketball, ping pong and miniature golf. You even agreed on a location: Mack and Dave’s, we’re lookin’ at you!
Speaking of tourism, what about a first-class lodge at nearby Beech Fork Lake? Most state parks in West Virginia aren’t just a short 15-minute drive from a thriving downtown. The pairing would be ideal for tourists. Most readers would love to see something built in the same class as the lodge at Stonewall Resort.
And yet another idea that would boost tourism is an aviation museum named after the first man to break the sound barrier — Gen. Chuck Yeager. The famed WWII flying ace and test pilot grew up in nearby Hamlin and has a scholarship named in his honor at Marshall University. How about the school and city working together to pay tribute to a true American hero?
Huntington’s restaurant scene already draws crowds from throughout the region. But you brought some new ideas to the table: a rooftop bar, vegan eatery, cafeteria-style diner and a restaurant overlooking the river, to name a few. Just some food for thought.
Believe it or not, Trader Joe’s was the third most suggested item on our list. With 8,000 fans of the “Bring Trader Joe’s to Huntington, WV” Facebook page, it’s easy to see why.
Whole Foods, Publix or Wegmans
Trader Joe’s may have its fans, but nearly as many of you long for a Whole Foods, Publix or Wegmans. While Whole Foods might be a pie-in-the-sky dream, the other grocery chains could be feasible. Remember when Huntington citizens packed into several buses to travel to the Red Lobster corporate headquarters in support of the restaurant coming to town? Well, it actually worked! Maybe it’s time we tried it again.
Jobs, jobs, jobs
A population boom of young, creative, entrepreneurial citizens would solve many of the city’s current woes, you said. You told us Huntington needs better jobs, stronger infrastructure and a broader range of opportunities for Marshall grads.
A Four-Star Hotel
“Huntington is in desperate need of a four-star hotel,” one reader proposed, “with a downtown location, large rooms or all suites, safe entry and parking, excellent linens, a morning coffee bar and possibly shuttles to the university and games.” Not a resort, but an upscale or boutique hotel that guests can enjoy when they visit family, friends and the university. Great idea!
Those Damn Lights
Dozens of you asked, “How hard can it be to synchronize the traffic lights in Huntington?” We asked Mayor Steve Williams and he told us that every traffic light in Huntington is owned and maintained by the State of West Virginia. Interesting. Maybe it’s time for Huntington residents to start writing and emailing the West Virginia Department of Transportation.
Highly visible, uniformed police downtown, whether walking the beat or patrolling on bicycle, would help residents and visitors alike feel safer, you said.
Brick By Brick
Speaking of streets, how about this idea one reader shared: Replace streets that require frequent repair and repaving by first removing the asphalt to the original brick. The bricks could then be removed and cleaned, the dirt under them leveled out, and the bricks replaced. Smooth brick streets would be a perfect match to our beautifully restored buildings.
Business is booming at Pullman Square in downtown Huntington and that makes it nearly impossible to find a parking space on Third Avenue. You don’t have much choice except to park in a nearby garage. Some of you would like to see two skywalks linking the parking garages to the shops and businesses that line the south side of Third Avenue. This would be especially helpful to our elderly and handicapped residents.
Field of Dreams
Many of our readers long for the days when Huntington had a minor league baseball team. Well, that dream may become a reality with the recent announcement that Marshall University is breaking ground on a new baseball stadium near the old BASF plant on Third Avenue. With such a prime location on one of the region’s busiest thoroughfares, Huntington may be poised to lure a minor league ball club to town.
Ice Ice Baby
Nostalgia for the past was a bit of a theme as several readers expressed the desire to see an ice rink, and minor league hockey, return to Huntington. An ice rink would provide year-round sports opportunities for area youth as well as recreation for young and old alike. A professional minor league hockey team would cap off the hat trick!
Huntington is home to myriad festivals: Rails & Ales, ChiliFest, the Hot Dog Festival and more. But can you really have too many festivals? (If you’ve recently watched the Fyre Festival doc, don’t answer that one.) While some would like to see our most popular festivals extended a few days, others would like new festivals brought to town, like a Christmas festival, a food and wine festival, and an outdoor arts and crafts festival. One reader suggested a street fair on Marshall game days with inflatables and other family fun activities.
Train of Thought
Heading from point A to point B? Our readers mapped out some ideas that’ll have you there in a flash, like electric car stations and four-lane access from the I-64 Fifth Street exit to downtown. Others proposed a light rail that travels from the courthouse to the mall, with stops at the Marshall campus, the football stadium, HIMG and Tanyard Station. The transit service would benefit not only carless folks, students and seniors but also, on game days, Marshall fans.
Hollywood Glitz & Glamour
We miss you, McG! Remember when Warner Brothers came to town to shoot We Are Marshall? Why not offer tax incentives to any and all moviemakers who choose to film in Huntington? With support from the city and Marshall University, it could add revenue and jobs — and a touch of glamour — to our city.
A Wrecking Ball
We heard you loud and clear: It’s time to take a wrecking ball to Huntington’s blighted neighborhoods. While many of you applauded Mayor Steve William’s initiative titled BANE (Blight and Nuisance Elimination) which saw 53 buildings demolished in 2018, more needs to be done. Numerous abandoned and neglected properties still plague many of our neighborhoods, from Highlawn in the east to Westmoreland in the west. Tearing down or repurposing those properties would curb crime and make Huntington a more attractive place to put down roots.
Larger Living Downtown
To promote downtown living, you said the city needs easily walkable services like a grocery store, pharmacy and laundromat. Amen to that! Offering delivery would be a plus, too.
Consolidate the Counties
“Huntington needs to lead the charge to merge Cabell, Kanawha and Putnam counties into a top 100 MSA (metropolitan statistical area),” one reader suggested. “This would put Huntington on the national radar and be a game changer for West Virginia.” Even establishing a metro government that includes all of Cabell County would have its benefits, chimed in another reader.
Adopt a Pothole
We know, we know. You already pay taxes for our roads to be maintained, but cities across the country struggle with budget issues each year. The solution for some is an Adopt a Pothole program where individual citizens (or businesses) donate a certain amount of money to fix these eyesores. The bigger the pothole the bigger the cost. In some instances, they can even pick the pothole they want fixed. In exchange, they are recognized with a small plaque in the road.
Several of you brought up an indoor sports complex, located either downtown or near Marshall, that could host tournaments, promote physical activity in the community and boost regional athletic programs. Other ideas, like adding a bike path linking Huntington to Barboursville Park, setting up recreational activities at the riverfront and building a community pool make one thing crystal clear: when it comes to recreational endeavors, Huntingtonians are ready to run.
Downtown Huntington needs more places to shop, you said. Of course, one reader noted, that would require “a change in the general public’s mindset about shopping online and at the malls.” Touché.
Give Me Shelter
Let’s follow in the pawprints of neighboring communities and build a new animal shelter, one reader suggested. Thanks to new shelter leadership, amped up volunteer efforts and several dedicated rescue groups, the euthanasia rate at the Huntington Cabell Wayne Animal Shelter has decreased dramatically. However, the shelter itself is in poor shape. It’s time to let our barks be heard and build a facility the entire region can be proud of.
Clean Up Our Act
Beautifying downtown doesn’t have to be complicated, you said. Small acts add up, like requiring building owners to clean the windows of their vacant properties and incorporating a regular, daily cleanup of trash around downtown businesses. Improvements to the Old Main Corridor, perhaps even adding lighted arches like in Columbus’s Short North district, was another suggestion.
We all have dreams for Huntington. After all, when you love something, you want what’s best for it. However, Huntington has a lot to offer already, and many of your suggestions centered on appreciating what we already have — beautiful parks, wonderful neighborhoods, a major university and a wealth of opportunities. One reader summed it up nicely: “We finally have qualified, creative and engaged and responsive leaders in key positions. Citizens are beginning to take control of their own destiny and define a vision for their community. It’s a really exciting time for Huntington.”
JACK HOUVOURAS is the editor and publisher of Huntington Quarterly.
KATHERINE PYLES is a freelance writer and editor living in Huntington.