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City wants to finance Big Sandy Superstore Arena plaza improvements

HUNTINGTON — The city of Huntington wants to use tax increment financing to overhaul the plaza outside the Big Sandy Superstore Arena, which could include more seating, a live music space and other improvements.

The request comes as the city announces it’s in a position to pay off debt related to improvements made to 3rd Avenue, which was widened during construction of the nearby Pullman Plaza in the early 2000s. There will be a public hearing at 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 24, at Huntington City Hall for people to give feedback on the proposal.

The state legislature permitted Huntington to create a tax increment financing, or TIF, district downtown in November 2004. A TIF district does not cause an additional increase in taxes, nor does it affect excess levy bodies. Instead incremental increases each year in taxes, which normally went to the state, are rerouted to pay for improvements within the designated district. Huntington’s downtown TIF district extends from the river to the railroad, from 6th Street over to 16th Street.

The TIF district was created to finance widening of 3rd Avenue from one lane to two lanes, including sidewalk and lighting improvements. It also funded opening two blocks of 9th Street to vehicle traffic. Previously, a portion of 9th Street was designated as pedestrian-only plazas. Implementation of the TIF district coincided with construction of Pullman Plaza, a privately owned development on 3rd Avenue. With the Pullman Plaza construction underway, the city knew property values would be increasing within that area, said Cathy Burns, executive director of the Huntington Municipal Development Authority. Burns previously headed the Huntington-Ironton Empowerment Zone, which pushed for the TIF district’s creation.

The city expected to pay the $2.4 million associated with the 3rd Avenue and 9th Street project by 2034. However, Pullman Plaza has proven to be such a success in raising property values that the city can now pay off its TIF debt earlier than expected, Burns said.

“We anticipated that it would take 29 years to pay all that back,” Burns said. “Well the values of the properties have increased, more accelerated, and we are able to pay these bonds off 16 years earlier than we had originally anticipated. So that tells you the project was successful.”

The city is on track to pay off a remaining $533,000 for the project within two years, Burns said.

The city wants to begin a second TIF project at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena, which hasn’t seen many renovations since its creation in 1977. The project is estimated to cost $1.7 million and would be paid off by the time the district expires in 2034, Burns said.

The Big Sandy Superstore Arena was chosen for strategic reasons. Trends show that today’s generation is more willing to spend money on entertainment and experiences than material possessions, she said.

“Huntington has positioned itself to capitalize on that more so maybe than some of our smaller communities this region,” she said.

Improvements to the arena’s plaza could add seating, a small amphitheater for live performances and opportunities for outdoor movies. It could also add an outdoor conference area and pathways leading to the box office and main entrance.

An investment in the arena would ripple throughout the surrounding businesses and city overall, said Cindy Collins, general manager. A 2014 economic impact study showed the arena provided at least 190 full-time jobs, created $5.6 million in labor income every year and approximately $17 million in total output annually. It also brought about $1 million in total state and local tax revenues a year. Collins said she is excited for an opportunity to remake the arena’s plaza.

“Right now it’s just one big blank space,” Collins said. “Its like a building where you put the flooring in, but don’t have the furniture yet.”

Following Monday’s public hearing, a request to submit the application for the project will go before the city’s Administration and Finance Committee at 6:15 p.m. If approved by the committee, it will go before City Council at 7:30 p.m. for final approval. If approved, Burns said the city wants to break ground on the project by 2020. A copy of the application for the project plan is on file in the Clerk’s Office at City Hall.

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Art in the Park brings artists, buyers together outdoors

Del Checcolo was joined by two of her students, 14-year-old Emily Wood and 6-year-old Easton Wood, at Art in the Park on Sunday. The event, hosted by the Tri-State Arts Association at Ritter Park this weekend, brought together local painters, photographers and quilt makers to sell their art surrounded by the natural scenes of the park.

Emily and Easton Wood were busy painting some scenery using oil-based paints. They’ve both been featured in Del Checcolo’s gallery, the 3rd Avenue Art Gallery, and Emily Wood even sold one of her paintings during the weekend’s event.

“I tell people all the time, especially with oil paintings, that landscape or still lifes, those are techniques that can be taught to you,” Del Checcolo said. “You can’t really teach people how to do a portrait, but there is a technique o doing a tree or doing a flower. Those are techniques that can be taught.”

Del Checcolo specializes in detailed portraits, including dogs and cats. Every Christmas she’s commissioned to paint dozens of pets, she said.

Sandra “Charlie” Charles, of Huntington, was selling her custom-painted quilts on Sunday. Charles said she got started when she couldn’t find a sky fabric to her liking, so she painted her own. From there, her quilts blossomed into flowers, landscapes and the ocean at sunset, among other things.

Charles said she’s proud her work is rooted in the culture of West Virginia, where women used various techniques to make quilts for their families.

“That is really where women’s history is. All those patterns are from engineers,” she said. “That would be women, lady, female engineers who designed those. It took a lot of configuring to get the shapes into where you want them.”

Also selling his art was Charlie Ott, of Lincoln County, who specializes in painting West Virginia homesteads. Some of the 100-year-old homes he’s depicted are no longer standing. Ott said it’s important to preserve the memories of how West Virginians used to live decades ago.

“A lot of them aren’t there now,” he said. “That’s all I do is drive around and try to find old barns, old houses, old homesteads and try to paint pictures of them. Especially, the old barns with Mail Pouches printed on them.”

New interview process for condemned inmates seeking mercy


The Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Members of the Ohio Parole Board will be given extensive information about the background of condemned inmates asking for mercy before they interview the prisoners, under a change in board policy that addresses a longtime criticism of the interview process.

Under the old approach, board members would interview a death row inmate armed only with court records about the inmate’s case and the inmate’s disciplinary record while imprisoned.

Under the new system, board members will have the inmate’s application for mercy, including information about upbringing and any reports of child abuse, history of mental illness, substance abuse struggles, and the prisoner’s rehabilitation while on death row.

In the past, such details weren’t presented to the parole board until the day of the prisoner’s clemency hearing.

The goal is to provide the board with a more complete picture of the inmate before the interview, said David Stebbins, a senior federal public defender who oversees capital punishment cases.

A clemency hearing “is supposed to be about reasons we’re presenting to consider clemency,” Stebbins said. “If they don’t have those reasons in front of them, I don’t think they can do a good job interviewing the client.”

The change, approved earlier this month, is slated to take effect in January ahead of the scheduled Jan. 16 execution of Kareem Jackson, convicted of killing two men in Franklin County in 1997 during a robbery.

Information about an inmate’s background has occasionally spared Ohio killers from execution.

On Jan. 3, 2017, board members interviewed death row inmate Raymond Tibbetts.

During the interview, Tibbetts struggled to explain why he stabbed Fred Hicks to death at Hicks’ Cincinnati home in 1997. Tibbetts was also serving a life sentence for fatally beating and stabbing his wife, 42-year-old Judith Crawford, during an argument that same day over Tibbetts’ crack cocaine habit.

“He is aware that the murders were very brutal in nature, and he is unsure as to how he could have gotten into such a state of rage,” according to a summary of Tibbetts’ comments during the interview released by the board.

But two weeks later, at Tibbetts’ clemency hearing, his attorneys presented extensive evidence that Tibbetts’ “impaired neurological development” and untreated substance abuse were responsible for his actions. They also argued that Tibbetts’ jury wasn’t adequately informed of his traumatic upbringing and the role a dysfunctional childhood played in the crimes.

The public airing of that information led an original juror from Tibbetts’ trial to come forward and say that such information wasn’t properly presented at trial. That, in turn, led then-Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, to spare Tibbetts in July 2018.

The Attorney General’s Office, which almost always argues against mercy for death row inmates, backs the change to the interview process.

The change “makes sense as it provides the board with the opportunity to fully examine volumes of written materials — including judicial decisions, trial transcripts, the clemency application and response — prior to interviewing the offender,” said Steve Irwin, a spokesman for GOP state Attorney General Dave Yost.

Executions are on hold in Ohio as the state struggles to find a new set of lethal injection drugs.

On Tuesday, a lawyer for the Attorney General’s Office told Federal Judge Michael Merz “there is no progress on adoption of a new execution protocol.” Merz is overseeing inmate challenges to Ohio’s lethal injection process.

That cast doubt on whether Ohio could carry out the planned Nov. 13 execution of Warren Henness, sentenced to die for the 1992 fatal shooting of a volunteer addiction counselor.

Since the state must provide 30 days’ notice of any change in its lethal injection method, Ohio has until Oct. 14 to act before the prisons system would have to ask Republican Gov. Mike DeWine to postpone Henness’ execution, Merz said in a Thursday court filing.

Submitted photo  

Fairland High School’s golf team won its third consecutive Ohio Valley Conference championship Saturday at the Ironton Country Club. Team members, from left to right, are, Cameron Mayo, Clayton Thomas, Landon Roberts, Kyle Slone, Mason Manns and Hanna Shrout.

Crews from Geosyntec Consultants and Amherst Madison remove large tree branches and other debris from the area surrounding the City of Huntington’s boathouse Thursday at Harris Riverfront Park.

Trump suggests he raised Biden with Ukraine's president


The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump suggested Sunday that he raised former Vice President Joe Biden and Biden’s son in a summer phone call with Ukraine’s new leader, as Democrats pressed for investigations into whether Trump improperly used his office to try to dig up damaging information about a political rival.

Trump told reporters that the July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was “congratulatory” and focused on corruption in the East European nation. In his remarks to reporters, he then raised Biden as an example, although there is no evidence of wrongdoing by Biden or his son Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

“It was largely the fact that we don’t want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son, creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine,” Trump said as he left the White House for a trip to Texas.

Biden, who is among the front-runners for the Democratic presidential nomination, accused Trump of making a baseless political smear.

The matter has sparked a fierce debate over whether Trump misused his office for political gain and whether his administration is withholding from Congress critical information about his actions. The incident is part of a whistleblower complaint, but the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, has refused to share details with lawmakers, citing presidential privilege.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has resisted calls for impeachment for other alleged Trump transgressions, said Sunday that unless Maguire provides information to Congress, administration officials “will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation.”

Another impeachment holdout so far, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that “we may very well have crossed the Rubicon here.”

A person familiar with the matter has told The Associated Press that Trump urged Zelenskiy to investigate Hunter Biden. The person wasn’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Ukraine’s got a lot of problems,” Trump said at the White House. “The new president is saying that he’s going to be able to rid the country of corruption and I said that would be a great thing. We had a great conversation. We had a conversation on many things.”

Hunter Biden was hired by the Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings in April 2014, two months after Ukraine’s Russia-friendly president was ousted by protesters and as his father was heavily involved in U.S. efforts to support the new pro-Western government and its pledge to fight corruption. The hiring of the younger Biden immediately raised concerns that the Ukrainian firm, whose owner was a political ally of the ousted president, was seeking to gain influence with the Obama administration.

Two years later, Joe Biden pressured the Ukrainian government to fire the prosecutor general, who was accused by many in Ukraine and in the West of being soft on corruption. Trump has claimed that the prosecutor, who had led an investigation into Burisma’s owner, “was after” Hunter Biden and the vice president was trying to protect his son. There is no evidence of this.

Trump insisted he said “absolutely nothing wrong” in the call to Zelenskiy. He did not answer directly when asked whether he would release a transcript of the conversation to the public.

After arriving in Texas, Trump told reporters he will look into releasing details or a transcript of the call, but stressed that foreign leaders should feel free to speak frankly with an American president without fear that the details of their conversations will later be disclosed. Trump said if Ukraine released its own transcript it would be the same as his version of the call.

Trump and Zelenskiy plan to meet on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly later this week.

The president has described the whistleblower as “partisan” but has acknowledged not knowing the identity of the intelligence official who lodged a formal complaint against him with the inspector general for the intelligence community.

The complaint was based on a series of events, including the July 25 call between Trump and Zelenskiy, according to two people familiar with the matter. They were not authorized to discuss the issue by name and were granted anonymity.

Biden said in Iowa on Saturday that “Trump deserves to be investigated” for “trying to intimidate a foreign leader, if that’s what happened.” Biden said Trump was motivated by politics “because he knows I’ll beat him like a drum.”

A leading Republican senator urged the Justice Department to investigate the “Biden-Ukraine connection.”

“We have looked at all things Russia and Trump, his family, everything about his family, every transaction between the Trump campaign and Russia,” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”

Now is the time, he said, to know “what relationships, if any, did Biden world have to the Ukraine.”

Michael Atkinson, the U.S. government’s intelligence inspector general, has described the whistleblower’s Aug. 12 complaint as “serious” and “urgent,” but he has not been allowed to turn over the complaint to Congress.

Maguire, the acting intelligence director, has been subpoenaed by Schiff’s committee and is expected to testify publicly on Thursday. Maguire and Atkinson also are expected to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee this week.

The Associated Press/  

northern long-eared bat

This undated file photo provided by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources shows a northern long-eared bat.