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.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.

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