HUNTINGTON — Members of the Huntington Municipal Development Authority moved one step closer to redeveloping a large swath of blighted and underused properties in the city's Highlawn neighborhood.

During a special meeting Wednesday night, members approved applying for two loans in the acquisition of 77.46 acres of long-vacant real estate comprising the former Flint Group Pigments, the Ingram Barge site, the McGinnis property and the ACF complex.

The properties have long been eyed for possible development of a baseball stadium for Marshall University, a hotel, retail spaces and industrial possibilities like biomedical engineering.

Board members agreed to apply for a loan of up to $4.5 million from the West Virginia Economic Development Authority to complete acquisition of the Flint Group Pigments property and begin negotiations on the other properties. They also approved applying for up to $4 million in interim loans from various financial institutions in case additional money is needed.

Huntington Mayor Steve Williams also said approximately $500,000 of $3 million that Huntington received in winning the title of America's Best Community in 2017 will go toward the projects.

"This is transformative for Huntington and transformative to the region," Williams said. "I've said for some time we have to recognize that brownfield property that is sandwiched between Marshall University and the Highlawn neighborhood that has been long-active factory land but has been vacant for so many years is about to be repurposed."

Williams said the next step is to close on the Flint Group Pigments property sometime next week. In September, members of the Huntington Municipal Development Authority agreed to purchase the property on 5th Avenue, hinging upon an environmental report to determine what it would take to make it ready for redevelopment.

Williams said he expects the deal to acquire the Ingram Barge site, the McGinnis property and the ACF complex to be completed "sometime in 2019, and hopefully in the earlier part."

Redevelopment of these properties would be a "game-changer" for Huntington, Williams said. Completion of this plan, to become known as the Huntington Innovation Zone, will reclaim a neglected neighborhood situated in a prime location. Developing these properties would place Huntington on par with other coal-centered cities that transformed into hubs for industry and biomedical research, he said.

He also expects a baseball stadium to be built on the properties, which has been sought for a long time.

"We have said all along that Marshall needs a baseball stadium and Huntington deserves a baseball stadium," he said. "As we acquire this land, we are going to be giving that opportunity and if it's going to be announced, that's Marshall's announcement to make, not ours."

In October, Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick announced the school had hired an architect to design the long-awaited baseball stadium.

Also during Wednesday's meeting, members agreed to retain the services of Executive Director Tom Bell, who retired late last year. Bell will remain until April to assist with the properties' acquisition. Associate Executive Director Lisa Riley was offered to stay in her position on an interim basis, with a 10 percent compensation increase, until a permanent executive director could be found.

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

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