On behalf of the City of Huntington, I would like to respond to the editorial titled “Proposed use of TIF money needs more public input” that was published in the Sept. 26 edition of The Herald- Dispatch.
This editorial raised a few key questions about the downtown tax increment financing (TIF) district, including where the plan to use TIF proceeds to renovate the plaza space in front of the civic arena and conference center for outdoor events and improve pedestrian lighting in the TIF district originated; whether this is the best use of TIF funds; and why there hasn’t been more public input.
These are all fair questions that should be addressed in an effort to better educate our citizens, property owners and business owners, all of whom are working hard to make our downtown a thriving destination for shopping, dining and entertainment.
First, a TIF project must improve publicly owned assets within a geographic area. Therefore, it is up to the local governing body, which owns those public assets, to select a project within a TIF district.
The downtown TIF district boundaries are from the Ohio River to 8th Avenue between 6th Street and Hal Greer Boulevard. After the district was established in 2004, city leaders decided that the first TIF project would be to convert 3rd Avenue from 7th to 13th streets as a two-way thoroughfare and open up 9th Street Plaza to vehicular traffic as a way to spur development on 3rd Avenue and on 9th Street in the wake of Pullman Square opening.
The plan worked. Private investment spread like wildfire to 3rd Avenue and 9th Street. In July 2003, the assessed value of all property in the downtown TIF district was $77.3 million. In 2018, it had increased to $90.6 million.
My administration chose improvements to the civic arena plaza as the second project in the downtown TIF district for similar reasons. An investment in enhancing the public space in front of the arena for outdoor events, in addition to the exterior renovations and improvements to the arena conference center that have already been completed, will ripple throughout the downtown central business district. A 2014 economic impact study conducted by the Marshall University Center for Business and Economic Research showed that 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 state and local tax revenues annually.
As for public input, there will have been a total of four opportunities for citizens to comment during this process before the TIF project is finally approved. Furthermore, this process is outlined in state law and is the same process that other TIF districts in Cabell County such as Tanyard Station and W.Va. 2 must follow.
It started in July when Huntington City Council’s Finance Committee and then the full governing body approved a resolution that officially put Cabell County’s levying bodies on notice that the City of Huntington was going to propose a second project in the downtown TIF district.
On Sept. 23, Huntington City Council’s Finance Committee and full governing body approved another resolution granting the city approval to submit the TIF project application to the state. In November, my administration will yet again ask City Council’s Finance Committee and full governing body to approve the project itself and the bond ordinance. Finally, in December, City Council will be asked to approve a resolution approving the terms of the bonds.
As you can see, there are still two opportunities for the public to learn more about this exciting project and offer comment. I look forward to continuing this educational process.