The phrase “I’ll believe it when they throw out the first pitch” will linger in my memory for years to come. It encapsulates the skepticism I often heard from rightfully disillusioned Marshall fans. For decades, they were promised a baseball stadium in Huntington, only to be let down time and time again. Today, however, marks a monumental shift for all those who needed to see it to truly believe it. When the first pitch is thrown this afternoon at Jack Cook Field, we will celebrate seeing a decades-old dream become reality. Today, we finally made it happen.
I intentionally say “we” made it happen because it took unwavering perseverance from so many people. It took massive collaboration between city, state, and federal partners. It took public funds from taxpayers like you along with private resources from generous donors. It took the university’s current and former board members, presidents, athletic directors, alumni, and student-athletes. It would have taken us even longer to get to the finish line if not for the governor, mayor, and even Marshall legend Coach Bobby Pruett, who helped secure a huge portion of the funding and whose relationships inside CSX railroad made it possible to negotiate the deal to buy the land we needed. It has been a long time coming, and our day is finally here.

What excites me most about today, and one of the reasons I am running for mayor, is the potential the stadium has to ignite a transformative economic revitalization in Huntington.

The spirit of collaboration that led to the construction of the stadium can continue. If “we” do this right, the city-owned ACF property and the Marshall-owned properties along Fifth Avenue & 24th Street offer us an incredible opportunity to build the city we want. From the floodwall to Fifth Avenue, stretching through the heart of the Highlawn community, “we” have the power to rejuvenate our city, injecting new vitality into an area that once bustled with life.

Here is my vision for what needs to be done next.

The land where the baseball stadium was originally going to be built along Fifth Avenue was bought at a relatively low cost. Marshall is now positioned to use federal grants for site cleanup, enabling a sale to developers at a price well above the initial cost. These developers can then make significant investments to construct new buildings on the properties facing Fifth Avenue where you would typically see retail outlets and restaurants. These new stores will draw patrons, generate revenue, and subsequently contribute taxes to both city and state coffers.

The empty parcels north of Fifth Avenue, the ones nestled between Third and Fifth Avenues along with the former ACF property that backs up to the floodwall, have much higher potential. Most universities located in cities become landlocked, so land adjacent to campus is too valuable to be used solely for retail establishments or coffee shops. Successful city and university partners fortunate enough to have available university-adjacent land take a strategic approach and use it to attract companies that are seeking access to the university’s talent and research capabilities. Working together, Huntington and Marshall can bring in these types of businesses to strengthen the city’s economy and add to the university’s success.
As mayor, I will make sure we don’t squander the opportunity to build something great. We did that many years ago when Huntington’s civic leaders weren’t all on the same page, so the mall was built in Barboursville and we ended up with a Chi-Chi’s restaurant on the Superblock. While I enjoyed the chips and salsa, it serves as a sad testament to how cities can shoot themselves in the foot.

It took decades before we finally came together with a common purpose. Now Pullman Plaza, along with the revitalization of the businesses across the street on 3rd Avenue, has transformed downtown Huntington into a regional magnet. This rebirth underscores the imperative to pursue strategies that promise not just immediate gratification, but also long-term economic prosperity.

The kind of strategic development of the ACF and Marshall properties I’m talking about can be a catalyst for a similar renewal in the Highlawn community. With growth like this, people who work in the new district will need places to live. That will compel the city to tear down dilapidated houses and private developers to begin investing in residential housing again. New growth will push drugs and crime out of the neighborhood, and property values will increase.

You may be thinking, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” I’m used to hearing that, and I’m running for mayor to show you we can make it happen. This vision for renewal is not just a dream; it’s a real future we can achieve if we work together. By harnessing the collective power of “we,” we can replicate the success of the baseball stadium project to renew our city. My goal is to ensure ongoing collaboration between Huntington and Marshall, fostering an environment where people are eager to live, work, and raise their families. This vision for our city is within reach. With your support, we can make it a reality.

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