Written by Aaron-Michael Fox.

I can still remember being a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young activist going to the “Create Huntington” meetings circa 2009-2010. It was an invaluably formative time in my life, and I made a lot of good friends. Some of those friends are now prominent voices in the city.

Create Huntington was a group of private Huntingtonians who would meet on Thursday evenings in the lobby of the Frederick to share ideas on how to rebuild Huntington in the wake of a lost manufacturing industry and a dwindling economy. Occasionally elected officials would stop by, but none of us had any political ambitions. We were all just fixated on one question: How would Huntington successfully transform from a manufacturing city with a college in it into a college town with a steel mill in it?

Fifteen years later, Create Huntington is now essentially just a Facebook group because everything we set out to accomplish has been accomplished…with the exception of a downtown grocery store and pharmacy. We now mostly talk about local events that need to be promoted or new businesses we’d like to see open.

From 2009 to 2024:

We wanted a responsive government that could balance the budget and would actually listen and represent the people of Huntington on how to allocate resources. For the most part, we got it.

We wanted to repair the “town & gown” relationship between the City of Huntington and Marshall University. We got it and we are now  the standard in the state, leading Morgantown by example.

We wanted Marshall to expand its presence into downtown. In the form of the MU Visual Arts Center on 3rdAvenue, we got it.

We wanted a police force that could protect the community with efficiency and professionalism while working with the community members in every neighborhood. Thanks to HPD Chiefs Holbrook, Ciccarelli, Dial, Cornwell, Colder, and now Watkins, we got it.

We wanted better use of our streets—from one-way streets out of town into better designs that protect pedestrians and cyclists. Thanks to the PATH and the Huntington City Planner’s Office, we got it.

We wanted public art. In the form of painted bison, trains, and riverboats, we got it.

We wanted a dog park at Ritter Park. We got it.

We wanted a skate park to encourage young people to go to Riverfront Park. We got it.

We wanted to clean up the litter and graffiti and take better care of our planters. For the most part, we did it.

We wanted to repurpose the upper floors of historic downtown buildings into Class A office and residential spaces. In the form of such buildings as the West Virginia Building, the Renaissance Building, the Angel Building, the Progress Building, and the Market, we’ve made great strides.

We wanted more diverse restaurants than just fast food burgers and pizza. Our restaurant scene is now second-to-none in West Virginia and growing, with everything from Cajun to Vietnamese cuisine available—and artisanal burgers and pizza.

In the wake of the filming of  Warner Bros’ “We Are Marshall,” we wanted to focus on building an industry around film. We now have a West Virginia Film Office and Marshall University is launching a new filmmaking program this fall.

We wanted to revive Heritage Station, which was nearly vacant, and make it a local shopping destination. Parks & Rec and the Convention & Visitors Bureau got it done.

We wanted to revive the vacant storefronts on 3rd and 4th Avenues and put them back into productive use with a special emphasis on locally owned boutiques. We’ve made great progress on this front and now rival Lewisburg as a shopping destination in West Virginia. 4th Avenue is lagging, but slated to get a “glow up” in streetscaping this summer—which should encourage more development there.

It has been said that the “Huntington Renaissance” began in 2005 with the groundbreaking of Pullman Square, and I would agree with that. But Pullman Square was never expected to be a magic bullet that would fix all of Huntington’s problems. The vacant Superblock was one piece of a very large machine that needed a lot of rust polished off. It took community buy-in for the development to spread.

I think on those early days of Create Huntington often and fondly. I almost wish the group was still necessary, but I do not want it to be needed again. It sprang up organically to fill the void left by a city government that didn’t seem to listen. At the time, we thought of ourselves as coffeehouse patriots in Revolutionary Boston plotting out our vision for the future. In hindsight, it was a magical time, but it’s even more magical to see our ideas come to fruition.

No doubt Huntington still has a ways to go before we can consider our efforts in redevelopment to be “over the hump,” but that shouldn’t stop us from enjoying the successes we’ve already had.

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