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HMDA purchases old ACF Industries complex for $3.12M

HUNTINGTON — The Huntington Municipal Development Authority has completed the purchase of the former ACF Industries complex along 3rd Avenue, a tract eyed for redeveloping that area of the city, Mayor Steve Williams announced Friday.

HMDA finalized the sale of the approximately 42-acre former rail car manufacturing facility for $3.12 million. The complex includes property between 3rd Avenue and the Ohio River along 24th Street and a parking lot on the south side of 3rd Avenue.

Acquisition of the complex is central to the city’s plan to remake that area and surrounding properties into the Huntington Brownfields Innovation Zone, or H-BIZ.

Funding for the purchase comes partly from a $3 million grand prize that city leaders won in the America’s Best Communities competition in 2017. HMDA also received a $2.7 million loan from the West Virginia Economic Development Authority to help complete the purchase.

“Similar to how development of the Superblock into Pullman Square nearly 20 years ago transformed our downtown, the development of the ACF property and adjoining properties will transform Huntington into the economic gateway of the Appalachian region,” Williams said. “This is a game-changer for our community.”

HMDA previously hired Stromberg/Garrigan & Associates Inc., of Somerset, Pennsylvania, to draft several potential uses for the ACF complex. Redevelopment plans could include up to 1 million square feet of mixed-use commercial, retail, housing, advanced manufacturing, office space and medical expansion and/or research facilities.

Along with the ACF property, HMDA purchased and resold 8 acres of the nearby Flint Group Pigments property last year, located along the north side of 5th Avenue at 24th Street. HMDA members bought the property for $750,000 and resold it to Marshall University for $468,000. The property is planned as the future site of Marshall University’s 3,500-seat baseball stadium, which has a March 2021 completion date.

“With HMDA’s acquisition of the ACF property, along with Marshall University’s $22 million investment in the former Flint Group Pigments property for a baseball stadium that is now under construction, these abandoned sites are being reclaimed for new development potential,” said HMDA Executive Director Cathy Burns. “The ACF property is a beautiful piece of flat land, situated in the heart of the eastern portion of Huntington, and is one of the largest developable tracts of land in West Virginia within a municipality. The site has great visibility, convenient access and is located in a prime area near the Ohio River, Marshall University, medical facilities and the downtown.”

HMDA members had hoped to complete the sale of the ACF property late last year, but were delayed as the West Virginia Economic Development Authority required title insurance before disbursing funds. HMDA later worked with a title service agency to obtain the insurance and also obtained a quitclaim deed for several CSX railroad track spurs located on the property — a move to affirm that CSX had no rights to them.

Going forward, HMDA has assembled a team that will complete environmental testing and remediation on the property during the next six to 12 months, Burns said. Simultaneously, HMDA will work with local and state development agencies to market the property and attract job-creating investments.

Burns said previously that she had spoken with several parties interested in developing the complex, but did not name those parties. She would pursue re-selling the entire complex to one single developer rather than re-selling it in pieces to multiple companies or individuals, she said.

Burns said HMDA’s architects would work with Marshall’s architects so the future ACF property and the completed baseball stadium will complement one another.

“I tip my hat to Mayor Steve Williams and his team for taking another positive step and helping with the development of the land that will surround the state-of-the-art Marshall baseball stadium that will be constructed,” said Marshall Director of Athletics Mike Hamrick. “This is going to provide a significant economic jolt to our city and region, and benefit our university, campus and athletic department.”

Justice pledges $1M in state funds to 2020 Census effort

CHARLESTON — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Thursday said he’s committed $1 million in state funds to encourage participation in the 2020 Census, saying federal officials have told him the state is “behind” in the effort.

“We need to get cranking,” he said at a news conference with Census Bureau officials who encouraged residents to apply for temporary jobs helping with the count.

An estimated 74% of West Virginians responded to the previous census in 2010, according to the governor’s office. Justice said a lack of participation in the count has led to the state missing out on “tens and tens of millions of dollars” in federal grant funding.

Justice said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has twice told him that “West Virginia’s behind” in the census.

The governor created a commission in October to work on improving participation and develop ways to reach isolated residents who aren’t likely to respond to the census, but said “we’re not moving like I want to see us moving.”

The census also determines how many representatives West Virginia has in the U.S. House of Representatives in the next decade, Justice said.

“I want Secretary Ross and everyone, in every state, to know that West Virginia takes this tremendously seriously, and I want them to say that West Virginia is leading the way,” said Justice.

Go Red luncheon: Feeling healthy can be deceiving, says heart attack survivor

HUNTINGTON — Angel Schneider believed she was near the healthiest she’d ever been when she fell victim to a heart attack at age 43.

“It was just like any normal Tuesday,” she said. “I got up, got my kids up, drove them to school, dropped them off, went on to work, got off work and headed home for the evening routine of homework and dinner and bath and bed, or so I thought.”

That night, Sept. 11, 2018, Schneider’s nighttime ritual was interrupted by the No. 1 killer of women — heart disease.

On Friday, more than 300 community members came together at the St. Mary’s Conference Center in Huntington to hear Schneider’s survival story and help raise heart health awareness at the annual Tri-State Go Red for Women Celebration and Luncheon, sponsored by St. Mary’s Regional Heart Institute and the American Heart Association.

“Awareness is so important; we all do what we want to do when we’re younger, and it does eventually affect our bodies,” Melanie Kerstetter, with the St. Mary’s Foundation, said. “It’s good for us to take the time to think about what we’re eating, what we’re doing, how we’re exercising, everything in our lives, because it truly does make a difference.”

Attendees shopped local vendors before the luncheon began at noon, and also had access to free health screenings.

“We have glucose, blood pressure (screenings), and people can get the results before they leave today,” Kerstetter said.

Dr. Mark Studeny, cardiologist at St. Mary’s Regional Heart Institute, shared with the audience risk factors that can influence heart disease, including family history, diabetes, smoking, sedentary lifestyle, obesity and hypertension, among others.

Although some of these factors are not modifiable, he said, paying attention to changes in the body and seeking treatment at the onset of symptoms can help reduce risks.

“The earlier you get to the hospital with a heart attack, there is a more likely chance that we can stop the heart attack,” Studeny said. “You have a much higher likelihood of survival.”

For Schneider, whose heart disease was hereditary, those words ring true on a personal level.

After experiencing a warm sensation come over her, a pain in her arm, shortness of breath and nausea, she still wasn’t convinced she was having a heart attack. Upon her arrival at St. Mary’s, tests revealed that, sure enough, Schneider had suffered one.

“I was making time for myself. I was going to the gym. I was working out, watching what I ate,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘How can this happen to me?’”

Schneider said she hopes people take away from her story how critical and lifesaving self-awareness is.

“As women, we are busy, and we all have a different busy, but you need to listen to your body and put yourself first, and we don’t always do that as women,” she said.

A Go Red Fashion Show featuring styles from local retailers also took place at the luncheon, with models who had a personal connection to heart disease. Proceeds from the event went to the American Heart Association.

Money sought for sports complex north of Ironton

IRONTON — Lawrence County is seeking $3.5 million in state capital grant funds as part of a proposed $35 million sports complex in the Ironton area.

The same funding source helped get the multimillion-dollar Gateway Center project started in Ironton about 10 years ago. The complex now includes two hotels and two restaurants off South 9th Street.

“This is my first go ’round with the capital budget,” said state Rep. Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill.

The community fund for the state of Ohio has only $150 million statewide, Stephens said earlier this week.

“There are a lot more needs than there is money to go around. We have several projects in my district,” he said.

“There are no guarantees for funding,” Stephens said. “It goes through the legislative process.”

Sports Force, a Florida firm, was asked to look at a sports complex for the area similar to projects it built in Pittsburgh and Cedar Point, said Ralph Kline, assistant executive director of the Ironton Lawrence County Community Action Organization.

The proposed site for the sports complex is about a half-mile north of Ironton on Ohio Route 93, Kline said. The Lawrence Economic Development Corp. owns a 65-acre site in the area along the former Detroit, Toledo and Ironton railroad bed, he said.

“We could tie it in with the Gateway Center project,” Kline said.

The project is the top priority for the Community Action Organization, Ironton aLive, the Lawrence Economic Development Corp. and the Greater Lawrence County Area Chamber of Commerce, Kline said.

The project would rely on private investment along with state, federal and local funding, he said.

“We would look to do it in phases,” Kline said.

The first phase would include outdoor sports, he said. The sports complex could be connected to Lake Vesuvius in the Wayne National Forest for things like ATV and mountain biking trails, he said. It also could connect to Storms Creek for kayaking, he said. Storms Creek flows into the Ohio River in North Ironton.

“We could make Ironton a weekend destination for all types of sports activities,” said Commissioner DeAnna Holliday. “We haven’t tapped into the full potential of the Wayne National Forest.”

“It could be used for mountain biking trails events,” Kline said.