HUNTINGTON — A variety of art, theater, local restaurants, small shops and bustling streets used to be a common sight in downtown Huntington, before the days of the large shopping mall. Then shopping, dining and general living moved out of town.
The story is neither new nor unique to Huntington, as many once lively cities have taken a backseat to suburban sprawl. However, Huntington is making a comeback, says Tyson Compton, president of the Cabell-Huntington Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"This is not the Huntington of a few years ago." Compton said. "The downtown is so incredibly vibrant, especially in the summer time. Every night of the week you'll find throngs of pedestrians making their way along Third and Fourth Avenue as they dine, shop, visit the new art gallery, take advantage of Pullman Square, enjoy the free summer concerts there or a POPs performance on the river."
Several sections of town, such as Pullman Square, Heritage Station and Fourth Avenue, have been revived in the past decade. New shops, unique businesses and local restaurants draw in crowds, while grassroots groups such as Create Huntington build projects to help better life in Huntington.
"I think there is a great energy in Huntington right now," Compton said. "It's almost palpable."
Pullman Square, 3rd Avenue between 8th and 9th Street
For more than three decades, a large swath of land known as the SuperBlock sat unoccupied. It was used as a parking lot for events at the nearby civic center, now the Big Sandy Superstore Arena.
"There had been talk of that project for so many years, while the huge block where it would be located sat practically empty," Compton said. "The downtown was not very inviting."
Then, in 2004, ground was finally broken on Pullman Square, a multi-block entertainment center that includes retail, restaurants, offices, a green space and multi-screen theater.
"The opening of Pullman Square was a huge catalyst," Compton said.
Currently, Pullman Square is home to several business including Marquee Cinemas, The Pottery Place, Cold Stone Creamery, several casual dining restaurants, The Different Twist, Starbucks, Jos A. Bank and Chico's. Two parking garages are available for parking, starting at $1 for 15 minutes to four hours, and there are metered spots available on the roads around the shops.
As Pullman Square has grown, so have the buildings across Third Avenue. Huntington physician and business owner Joseph Touma began renovating buildings he purchased, adding more retail and restaurant space.
"He put a great deal of time and money into his project and it really revived that side of the street," Compton said. "Now we have a multitude of shops and restaurants that attract visitors."
Mug and Pia, which stands for Most Unique Gifts and Paper Items Anywhere, was opened by Kim Sarka Lake in 2008. Soma, a lingerie store, White House Black Market and Le Bistro recently opened on Third Avenue, with Paula Vega Cupcakes just around the corner.
The future of Third Avenue shows more growth, as the Marshall University School of Art and Design has purchased the former Stone and Thomas building that sits directly across from Pullman Square, and is currently renovating the space.
The entire school is expected to make the move from Marshall's main campus to the new building in 2014.
"This will definitely be a game changer and we expect a huge growth spurt once that opens," Compton said.