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City set to learn results

Sep. 18, 2013 @ 11:00 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Huntington officials will learn this weekend if a large volunteer effort to beautify the city will result in recognition from a nationally-renowned awards competition.

Mayor Steve Williams, who will attend the three-day America in Bloom symposium and awards ceremony in Orlando, Fla., that kicks off Thursday, Sept. 19, says he naturally wants to bring home as many awards as possible. But even if Huntington walks away empty-handed, it's already won, he said.

"When I see the way our city embraced America in Bloom and how volunteers sprung up from all over to make it cleaner, I don't see how anyone can say that we lost," he said. "The one thing we've been able to underline is that it can't be City Hall that does everything. This is a city owned by its citizens and they've embraced the idea that if we're going to be an exceptional city, everyone has to be engaged."

America in Bloom is a nonprofit organization formed in 2001 that promotes beautification through education and community involvement. Entrance into the competition includes on-site coaching from judges, who visited Huntington for two days in July.

Huntington is among four cities in the 30,000-50,000 category that signed up for this year's competition. The others are Winter Garden, Fla., Holland, Mich., and DeKalb, Ill.

The America in Bloom judges evaluated the city using six criteria: floral displays, landscaped areas, urban forestry, environmental efforts, heritage preservation and overall impression. While in Huntington, they toured the downtown, riverfront, Ritter Park, Huntington Museum of Art, Marshall University and Heritage Farm Museum and Village, among many other attractions.

Williams and Huntington Municipal Development Authority Director Tom Bell, who coordinated the "Huntington in Bloom" volunteer effort with his executive assistant, Lisa Riley, will meet with judges Barbara Vincentsen and Bruce Riggs at the symposium Saturday to review the city's strengths and weaknesses. The judges will then provide written evaluations of their visit next week. Bell said the feedback alone from Riggs, an expert in horticulture and landscape design, and Vincentsen, an architect, interior designer and professional planner, will be crucial as Huntington makes future beautification plans.

The first award of the symposium -- the YouTube video award -- will be announced Thursday. Many entrants used videos to showcase how participating in America in Bloom has affected them. The videos are judged on merit and the number of views on YouTube. Huntington's video, which was produced by Trifecta Productions and the Cabell-Huntington Convention and Visitors Bureau, had about 2,300 views Wednesday afternoon.

The remaining awards will be presented Saturday. Those include awards for each population category as well as "best of the best" awards for each of the six criteria in which cities were judged. Huntington also will receive a "bloom rating" of one to five based on its overall performance.

Williams said he also looks forward to meeting other mayors from across the country and learning how they are addressing similar issues as Huntington.

"My biggest concern is our ongoing infrastructure issues," he said. "Our (storm water) program is going to have a long and lasting effect on the way we start seeing our city."

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