It’s been decades since a tall building was erected in downtown Huntington, and with the downturn in retail and office-based businesses, finding tenants for the ones we have has been a difficult endeavor.
When such a building falls into disrepair, it can have a domino effect on the neighborhood. In the old days it was called “blight,” and it’s a condition neighborhoods prevent as best they can.
Such is the case with the building commonly known as the Prichard Building, at the corner of 6th Avenue and 9th Street. Good news came last week when the city of Huntington was informed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will provide $462,590 to bring the Prichard Building back to the condition where it can be occupied.
The historic building at the southwest corner of 6th Avenue and 9th Street originated as the 300-room Prichard Hotel. In its prime, the Prichard Hotel was close to the passenger train depot on 7th Avenue. As travel shifted to airlines and highways, and as new competition was built along highways and as a new hotel was going up nearby, the Prichard ceased operation as a hotel in 1970. It was converted into an apartment building with some businesses on the ground floor.
Late last year, the building was purchased by Cornerstone Development Corp. of Dallas. The Prichard Building’s previous owner was Christ Temple Church in Huntington, which attempted to transform the building into a place where people could go through a spiritually based program to recover from addiction. It was called the Hope Tower.
However, by March 2015 residential tenants at Hope Tower were told to vacate their apartments because city inspectors found numerous plumbing and electrical code violations in the building. The building has sat empty for the past couple of years, with reports of glass falling from its windows.
The city previously used EPA brownfield grant funding to assess the building, which is contaminated with inorganic material and metals. The grant announced last week will help clean up asbestos, mold, lead-based paints and outdated lighting fixtures containing harmful materials from inside the hotel.
Once it is cleaned, the building will be redeveloped to include commercial business space and a community center space and senior-assisted living spaces on the upper floors.
Were it a small building, the Prichard could be demolished and replaced with something that would be more competitive with other properties in the downtown area. Even if it were demolished, there is no guarantee anything would be built in its place. The downtown has lost two buildings to fire in the past 20 years. Both were demolished, and both lots are vacant.
This is the type of problem that can be solved, though. There have been several buildings in Huntington that sat unused and deteriorating until someone decided they could make money by removing or renovating them. One is now a storage building. One is a convenience store.
The announcement that the Prichard will receive help was an important step in restoring vitality to the downtown.
Once the brownfield work is finished, the burden will be upon the building’s owner to show that one of Huntington’s tallest buildings can compete for tenants.
Nevertheless, getting the Prichard fixed up will take care of one downtown problem before it adversely affects the entire neighborhood.