Mayor Brooks Fetters’ State of the City address focused on two things: growth and community strength, despite inherent imperfections.
“I hope each and every one of you here understand that communities and people are not perfect,” Fetters said Friday at the Café of Hope. “You can all look at me and understand I’m not perfect … But we are always making progress … What I would ask each and every one of you and all the citizens of Huntington … is just to embrace, at an emotional and loving level, our community. We can all focus on the flaws and the faults, but I will tell you what, there is a lot of great stuff happening. And in spite of the imperfections, there’s a lot of progress happening and a lot of improvement happening.”
In 2018, The City of Huntington saw its highest level of volunteerism, with nearly 6,000 citizens volunteering more than 19,000 hours on 158 projects, which Fetters said comes out to about $400,000 of free improvements.
“We all talk about how do we raise better citizens for the next generation? It’s by engaging them in volunteerism,” he said.
Fetters said the hard work of volunteers from the annual Little River Cleanup has helped bring prosperity to river-front properties, like a home at 423 E. State St., where local improvements were attributed to increased property values.
“The river now is something that’s attractive for people who want to buy that home and walk their kayak out the backyard right into the river,” he said.
State Street didn’t have curbs or gutters, but the State Street improvement project put in new separated stormwater and sewer lines, sidewalks, gutters and curbs, which Fetters said ties into the $3.5 million investment within the last six years to the Boys and Girls Club to improve the neighborhood.
The city added to the neighborhood’s revitalization by moving City Services and the Street Department into the former lumberyard near State Street.
Fetter said the homeowners at 423 E. State St. put their home on the market during construction, and despite having close proximity to the river and railroad, within ten days the home sold for more than the owners were asking for.
“That house sold in 2009 for$ 102,000,” Fetters said. “It sold this last year for $138,000. Now that’s about a 30 percent increase in property value over about a nine or ten year period.”
2018 also brought an increase in new-home construction within city limits. A total of 47 homes were built, with 75 percent of those homes built on the south side of town.
He attributed that growth to Huntington County Community Schools Corporation reopening Horace Mann and the idea that public investment sparks private investment. For example, Fetters talked about the Etna Avenue project and how it resolved flooding issues while attracting business like Apolo Caster and Blazin’ Akers.
Fetters said if he has a legacy project from his time in office it would be the H.K. Porter brownfield site.
“On day one in 2012, a group of us got together and said this asbestos plant on the east side of Huntington is a blight … and it needs to go away … There’s asbestos, there’s lead, there’s benzene, it’s ugly to look at and it’s just a mess,” Fetters said. “It’s been a mess for about 20 years.”
He said his administration has netted more than $900,000 in federal dollars for rehabilitation by calling on the EPA persistently and working with Indiana legislators, like State Senator Andy Zay, who was present at the address.
The city has already demolished 7 buildings for cleanup, and Fetters said they are monitoring neighboring residential properties to receive mitigation as well as demolishing the next round of buildings.
Looking into the future, Fetters said the recent acquisition of land west of the Riverfork Drive Industrial Park will give the city the ablility to attract businesses into town. He said the city was 97 percent at capacity before the acquisition.
Unemployment is historically low, and Fetters said 125 jobs were created last year in the county with more than $24 million in capital investment. He added that there are more than 400 jobs available within five miles of Huntington, with wage opportunities in excess of $100,000 per year.
“If you hear anyone say they just can’t find a livable wage job, they’re out there,” he said. “The average wage for any job that received any kind of local or county money was $20.61 an hour, and we retained 944 jobs this last year.”
He talked about the benefits of public-private partnerships and collaboration.
The City invested $3.2 million in cash on had to put toward the UB Block improvement, with the rest of the nearly $9 million project coming from private investors.
“(The City’s investment is) a little bit more than it would have cost for us to tear it down and turn it into some sort of a green space, but not much. You tear down a building of that size and you get to 2 million in a hurry and then when you get into redeveloping it, you can get into a million pretty quick,” he said.
Huntington University, The LaFontaine Arts Council, Pathfinder Services and other corporations are already planning to move into the building, and there will be 37 market-rate apartments.
“It’s not age or income restricted,” he emphasized. “They’re not another senior housing apartment complex in downtown Huntington. We’ve got four. We don’t need anymore. We told the people who came to pitch the project, ‘You talk to us about senior apartments and we will just bulldoze the thing.’”
The project is planned to be completed by the end of 2019.
He added that the new city police department will increase the safety of both officers and the community, which begins construction this spring.