Lori Wolfe/The Herald-Dispatch file photo

The former ACF industrial area along 3rd Avenue in Huntington, pictured here in this file photo from 2015, has been purchased by the Huntington Municipal Development Authority for redevelopment.

HUNTINGTON — Members of the Huntington Municipal Development Authority agreed to purchase the ACF Industries complex Monday, which is the latest step in a plan to redevelop a large swath of blighted and underused properties in the city's Highlawn neighborhood.

In the Board of Director's first regular meeting since February, HMDA members approved signing necessary documents to purchase the 42-acre ACF property for $3.12 million.

Huntington Mayor Steve Williams, who serves on the board, said several parties have come forward with an interest to develop the property. He did not elaborate on who the interested parties might be, but said there have been discussions to build a hotel and manufacturing possibilities in that area.

The property, located along the north and south sides of 3rd Avenue and 24th Street, is central to a plan to remake that area and surrounding properties into the Huntington Brownfields Innovation Zone, or H-BIZ. This was a key component of a plan Huntington leaders submitted to the America's Best Communities competition, winning a $3 million grand prize in April 2017 to help make it a reality.

In the city's winning proposal, the ACF property was highlighted for its potential to connect downtown with river access and recreational opportunities. The proposal suggested using part of the property to develop a foundry center, which is a mixed-use development for offices, research possibilities, housing, event venues and manufacturing opportunities.

"This is wonderful for the city and will certainly be the linchpin for the next 50 years," Williams said. "It's that significant of an acquisition."

Along with the ACF property, the board also purchased 8 acres of the nearby Flint Group Pigments property, located along the north side of 5th Avenue at 24th Street, for $750,000. The property is planned as the future site Marshall University's 3,500-seat ballpark, which has a March 2021 completion date.

There are still ongoing negotiations to purchase the former Ohio River Terminals coal dock and rail facility and the long-closed McGinnis Factory. The board has an option to purchase the 27-acre former Ingram Barge property along the Ohio River for $1.9 million.

All of these properties, collectively known as the Highlawn brownfields, were central to the city's winning proposal in the America's Best Communities competition.

Board members have been in discussions to purchase the ACF property from its owner, ACF Industries LLC, for the past year. The property was once used as a railroad car manufacturing plant before it was mostly idled more than 20 years ago. Unlike the other properties in that area, some of ACF's buildings are operational, though with minimal staffing.

"Huntington is eager to revitalize these prime properties consistent with the vision outlined in the Huntington Brownfields Innovation or 'H-BIZ' master plan, which was created with input from the community," according to a statement from the board.

The ACF property was first established as a railroad car manufacturing plant by Ensign Car Works in 1872 and was partly financed by Collis P. Huntington, the city's namesake. In 1899, Ensign Car Works and 12 other companies merged to form American Car and Foundry Company. That later became known as ACF in the 1950s.

Travis Crum is a reporter for the Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526.2801.

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