Editor's note: This is the first in a periodic series looking at the four main components of the Huntington Innovation Project, the revitalization plan that in April won the top prize of $3 million in the America's Best Communities competition. Today's report: Fairfield Innovation Corridor.
HUNTINGTON - As a longtime resident of Huntington's Fairfield neighborhood, Sandra Clements knows all too well not to get her hopes up when the city starts making plans.
So when the city began touting a vision for the redevelopment of the Fairfield area as part of its revitalization plan for the America's Best Communities competition, Clements was skeptical.
"I thought, 'Here we go with another one. We're going to sink some more money in and what's going to happen with it?' " she said recently.
The plan, known as the Fairfield Innovation Corridor, aims to improve the main strip of Hal Greer Boulevard; turn the Northcott Court public housing units into a mixed-use commercial, retail and residential area; and create opportunities for job growth and healthy living.
Unlike the other plans that she had seen come and go, Clements said this one was more thought-out and was created not just from the input of business leaders and government officials but from the community as well.
"This is the first time that I've been involved in the process itself where everybody who came out to the meetings has moved the process along, and I do feel like this is going to come to some completion," she said. "It's all very exciting."
Since entering the America's Best Communities competition in 2015, Huntington has been able to secure more than $1 million for the Fairfield project alone from federal and state grants as well as donations from local businesses and residents.
The majority of funds collected thus far will be used to conduct a corridor management plan of Hal Greer Boulevard in order to turn it into a safer street for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.
Those involved in the Fairfield Innovation Corridor are also seeking a HUD Choice Neighborhood Grant, which would more than double the project's funds. It would be used to create an in-depth master plan for the Fairfield area, plus implement desired community programs.
As a guide for that master plan, the city already has formed a basic plan, developed from hours of meetings with community stakeholders. It identifies areas throughout the city considered ripe for improvement, building upon structures and programs already in place. It also creates districts throughout the neighborhood that target everything from recreation and health to education, the arts and workforce development.
The plan is only in its conceptual phase and is very much still evolving, but local leaders say it's a step in the right direction.
The plan's components
Clements, a former City Council member, said the concept came about mainly from the input from two groups, the Fairfield Alliance and a sub-group of community members handpicked and led by Clements.
The Fairfield Alliance consists of more than 40 members from local, state and federal government, Marshall University, Cabell Huntington Hospital, Huntington Housing Authority, Huntington Black Pastors Association, local businesses and philanthropy organizations.
Margaret Mary Layne, former Huntington city manager, CEO and president of Layne Consulting and Fairfield Alliance member, said the groups took a holistic approach in developing the plan. Taken into account were the needs of the community as well as larger institutions in that area of the city.
"Our goal here is to maintain the culture and heritage of the community," Layne said. "We're not looking at razing everything and starting over."
Alliance members believe they were able to develop a cohesive plan that met the desired needs of those involved and still kept the integrity of the neighborhood.
"We tried to take all the ideas that bubbled up in the discussions with the community and the Fairfield Alliance and tried to identify opportunities for those to occur within the community," said Phoebe Patton Randolph, principal architect at Edward Tucker Architects Inc. and a member of the alliance.
The plan encompasses the portion of the city from 12th Street to 20th Street between 8th Avenue and Interstate 64. It identifies potential development sites and gives a general overview of desired improvements.
On the grounds of the soon-to-be-demolished Northcott Court public housing complex located along Hal Greer Boulevard would be the proposed site of a grocery store as well as space for housing, retail and commercial buildings.
The addition of a grocery store has long been a desire of residents in the Fairfield area, which has been known as a food desert with the closest grocery store more than a mile away and only a few fast food restaurants scattered along Hal Greer Boulevard.
Across the street, along Charleston Avenue and not far from the Marshall University Forensic Science Center, the group has identified the possibility for a Marshall University Fairfield Campus.
Since the university already has a presence in that area, this area could be used to add student housing and space for the expansion of the university's pharmacy school.
Traveling north along Hal Greer Boulevard sits the A.D. Lewis Community Center, the Barnett Center and the Douglass Center, all making up what the plan sees as a potential Recreation and Health District. That would be accomplished by advancing the activities and programs offered at the A.D. Lewis Community Center as well as improving the running track and swimming pool. At the Douglass Center, Marshall Health is in the process of converting the historic black high school into a community center and public health center, having already invested more than $1 million into the property with plans to invest about $3 million more.
Further east along Charleston Avenue near Spring Hill Cemetery and Spring Hill Elementary, the alliance sees the potential development of a community center named after Carter G. Woodon, a graduate of the former Douglass High School and considered the father of black history.
Randolph said this area was identified because it is close to the elementary school and reaches an underserved portion of the Fairfield area.
In looking at the existing community centers in Fairfield, the A.D. Lewis Community Center and the Fairfield East Community Center, Randolph said it is realistic to assume that the community centers serve about a half-mile radius, a reasonable walking distance. Unfortunately, because these centers are located on opposite sides of the neighborhood, Randolph said there is a gap in coverage around 20th Street.
With the elementary school already in place and a proposal for a new community center, the plan identifies this area as the Education and Arts District. The area would be known for providing enrichment activities focused on the arts and STEM activities as well as offer child care and community event space.
The alliance also identified several areas for street and sidewalk improvements. In addition to turning Hal Greer Boulevard into a complete street, the alliance proposes aligning Charleston Avenue, Doulton Avenue and 10th Avenue, which currently zigzag across Hal Greer Boulevard. The plan also identifies several places where additional signage and public art can be displayed.
Several sites have also been identified that could be open to any type of development as well as a workforce development center at the former Lincoln High School on 10th Avenue between 24th and 25th streets.
While nothing is set in stone, Randolph said this gives the community something to work toward.
Pursuing the money
A separate group was formed to pursue a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Layne said the three-year HUD Choice Neighborhood Grant would provide the community with $1.3 million. Layne said about $500,000 of that would be used to create an in-depth master plan for the area, while the remainder would be used for the creation of desired community programs.
"With this grant it's not just about planning; you are beginning to see change," Layne said.
As part of the Fairfield HUD Choice Neighborhood Grant Work Team, roughly 30 individuals from similar organizations participating in the Fairfield Alliance identified three priorities for the grant money - housing, neighborhood and people.
The categories encompass much of what the existing plan outlines, including mixed-use development at Northcott Court, affordable housing for local residents, job training programs, more emphasis on the arts and community-centered programming.
Layne said the grant application will be submitted by the end of August with the hopes of hearing back sometime in the fall.
If awarded, the city also will be required to come up with a $65,000 match. Layne said Cabell Huntington Hospital already has committed $50,000 toward the match. Another organization has been asked to contribute the remaining $15,000, but if that request is declined, the city will use a portion of its ABC winnings to cover the remainder, Layne said.
"That's exactly what we intended to use the winnings for, leveraging and providing matches for larger dollars," Layne said.
Hal Greer Boulevard
Another part of the Fairfield vision is transforming Hal Greer Boulevard, which in many areas poses a hazard for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, into what is known as a "complete street."
With complete streets, it's all about safety and convenience for all users.
By making Hal Greer Boulevard more user friendly, Layne said it will not only be safer for residents but also serve as enticement for businesses looking to relocate to the area.
The city has secured grant funds from the West Virginia Department of Transportation and the Federal Highways Administration for a corridor management plan that will encompass a roughly three-mile stretch of Hal Greer Boulevard, beginning at the I-64 exit and stretching to 3rd Avenue.
"We're looking at it as a whole," Layne said. "How do we make it a better street? How do we take into account not just moving cars, but moving people? How do we create more safety?"
The corridor management plan is expected to include design and engineering plans for building a complete street. Layne said the city can then move on to the next phase, which would be developing construction documents for the street upgrades and finally moving on to the actual redevelopment of Hal Greer Boulevard.
"Everything is starting to fall into place," Layne said.
Layne said the city originally had applied for a separate technical assistance grant with the Federal Highways Administration but was not selected as a recipient.
Relying again on community partners, Layne said it was U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who approached the U.S. Department of Transportation, advocating on behalf of Huntington and its need for assistance in upgrading Hal Greer Boulevard.
In the end, Layne said Manchin was more than successful and ended up securing more funding for the project than the other grant would have provided. Layne said the KYOVA Interstate Planning Commission is also a very committed partner in this project.
The general consensus of Fairfield Alliance members is that the Fairfield Innovation Corridor plan will not fizzle out like some previous undertakings, but come to full fruition.
From improving Hal Greer Boulevard that runs through the heart of the Fairfield neighborhood, to the addition of a much needed grocery store and community programs aimed at benefiting everyone in the community, Clements said she has never seen a plan like this for her neighborhood that has involved so many people and been as thorough.
"I think having a plan is the most important part," Clements said. "Before now, there has never been a plan like this. When you have a plan, you can sock in something here or take a piece there. Having the plan has been really, really great and if we don't get (grants), fine, but we have a plan and we're going to work toward it."
Follow reporter Josephine Mendez on Twitter @JozyMendezHD.