Huntington offers a bustling downtown
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.
Old Main Corridor, 4th Avenue from 8th Street to Hal Greer Boulevard
Shortly after Pullman Square construction was completed, the city began work on upgrading the street scape on Fourth Avenue. That area known as Old Main Corridor connected the downtown to Marshall University with new lighting, artistic design and eventually a bike path.
A key section of the Old Main Corridor is Fourth Avenue between Eighth and Tenth Street.
The Keith-Albee Theater was closed as a movie theater but reborn as a performing arts center and "reclaimed her status as the grand dame of downtown Huntington," Compton said.
Across from the Keith-Albee is the Frederick 21, one of the many locally owned restaurants filling the city. Huntington Prime, Pub and Oven, Backyard Pizza and Raw Bar, and Hibachi round out a variety of dinner options. Edwin and Kim Sarka Lake have added to their line of businesses by opening Tropical Moon, a frozen yogurt shop, and Simply Whisk, a kitchen supply store.
Fourth Avenue continues to see revitalization as developer Shane Radcliff works to transform 831 4th Ave., formerly the Renaissance Bookstore, into high-end loft apartments and retail space.
Heritage Station, 210 11th Ave.
One of the newer developments in Huntington is Heritage Station. Housed in a renovated train depot, the main building houses the offices for the Convention and Visitors Bureau, The River and Rail Bakery and The Red Caboose, a regional artisan center and gift shop that specializes in unique items created by local artists.
In 2010, the CVB partnered with the property landlord, The Greater Huntington Parks and Recreation District, to revive the shops located on site. After careful planning and recruitment, all shops are now leased to a complementary mix of tenants. They include Brown Dog Yoga Studio; The Wild Ramp, a local food market; Brand Yourself, a design-your-own clothing and gift shop; Sip Wine Bar; Finds and Designs, a mid-century gallery and vintage clothing store; Bottle and Wedge, a craft beer and cheese store; Jameson Cigars, a locally owned cigar store; Morrison Studios, a studio and gallery specializing in custom, local, and statewide photography and videography; Common Ground, which offers handcrafted, inspiring, and uncommon goods for the home and garden; and All About You Hair & Nail Salon.
With a cobblestone patio and large pavilion, Heritage Station is well-equipped to host events. Last summer, those events included a weekly movie night; Party on the Patio, which features local bands and food vendors; and the Diamond Teeth Mary Blues Festival.
Other areas of interest in Huntington:
The Huntington Museum of Art, 2033 McCoy Road: Located in the hills of Huntington, this 52-acre art museum boasts a variety of exhibits, nature trails, an observatory, and classes for all ages. Admission is $5, or $18 for a family of four. Admission is free on Tuesdays.
Ritter Park, 13th Avenue: The 100-plus acre park is a favorite for Huntington citizens and earned national recognition in 2012. The American Planning Association designated Ritter as one of the 10 Great Public Spaces in the country. Ritter recently opened a dog park and has miles of walking and jogging trails, a tennis center, playground, rose garden and amphitheater.
Old Central City Antique District, 14th Street W.: Also known as the Antique Capitol of the Tri-State, this slice of yesteryear has a shop for every antique-hunter or thrifter. In addition to the antique shops, there is a florist, meat shop, pavilion and greenspace and a seasonal farmer's market.