Etna Avenue transformation, State Street sewer separation, Porter clean-up highlight State of City

Huntington Mayor Brooks Fetters emphasizes a point during his State of the City report, presented Friday, Feb. 1, at Café of Hope. Among the city’s future plans is a new police station and a 127-acre industrial park.
Huntington Mayor Brooks Fetters emphasizes a point during his State of the City report, presented Friday, Feb. 1, at Café of Hope. Among the city’s future plans is a new police station and a 127-acre industrial park. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Etna Avenue’s transformation, the State Street sewer separation, H.K. Porter brownfield cleanup and job creation topped the list of Mayor Brooks Fetters’ State of the City address, officially presented Friday, Feb. 1, at Café of Hope.

Huntington’s achievements during 2018 included the completion of the Etna Avenue corridor improvements, which included 7,000 linear feet of storm sewer, 117 inlets, 9,400 tons of asphalt, 8,275 linear feet of new curb and the installation of 2,900 feet of new 12-inch water main. The nearly $5.2 million project began in 2008 during the administration of former Mayor Steve Updike and was declared officially finished Aug. 21.
Fetters cited the flash flood that occurred this past summer spared the corridor, with no water standing on Etna Avenue due to the improvements.

“This also opens up some opportunities for neighborhood improvements with storm drainage around the Etna Avenue area,” he added. “Older neighborhoods that have been put in without curbs and gutters, now there’s the opportunity as we move forward … We’re going to be able to make some good things happen over the next five to 10 years in neighborhoods.”

Business along Etna Avenue has also seen a resurgence, Fetters said, with the old dairy building rehabilitated into the new home of Apollo Caster, new ownership of Lime City Manufacturing Company and the opening of Blazin’ Akers in the former Baxter’s Restaurant building.
The separation of sanitary and storm sewers on State Street was another feather that Fetters mentioned, tying in with the new Parkview Boys & Girls Club of Huntington County building.

The project included 6,260 linear feet of new storm sewer with 12-inch to 42-inch pipes and 1.1 miles of existing sewer rehabilitated.

Fetters noted the street now has curbs and gutters again, with 1.38 miles of sidewalk replaced. He added that property values have also gone up about 30 percent in the neighborhood, with the river cleanup project making the area more attractive.

“For most of us, where our home is is our most important asset, not only economically but also emotionally, that’s prosperity that sets in the hearts of citizens and says, ‘I like living in this neighborhood,’” he added.

Fetters also said Huntington saw a record year of new home construction in 2018, with 75 percent of that development occurring on the south side of town. He complimented the Huntington County Community School Corporation with bringing back Horace Mann Elementary, which he said played a role in “killing housing development on the south side” when it closed its doors in 2011 and has been a major factor in the housing restart.

“It goes with Etna Avenue improvements, it goes with the intersection improvements at Waterworks at Etna, it goes with the improvements going on out at the industrial park,” he said. “It goes on with getting schools where they need to be for those who want to call Huntington home. This is a very, very exciting trend.”

The H.K. Porter plant brownfield cleanup project was another task Fetters said his administration tackled during 2018, saying the contamination caused by asbestos, lead, benzene and other substances “is a blight, not just for those neighborhoods but for the city as a whole, and it needs to go away.”

The city used $900,000 of federal funds on the project, mobilizing the Environmental Protection Agency and local officials to clean up the property. Adjacent residential properties in the area are also being tested to see if remediation is needed.

Another area Fetters said the city is engaged in is what he termed “regionalism,” with participation in the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership as part of a $42 million release of funding to improve the quality of life and grow the population of the area, including Huntington County. That goal includes job creation and investment to fill open positions at multiple manufacturing businesses in Huntington.

“We are trying to attract talent, trying to retain talent, and creating a place worth caring about in Northeast Indiana,” Fetters said.

He cited the UB Building renovation project that is currently under construction downtown, representing the city’s $3.2 million investment in collaboration with Pathfinder Services, Inc., Huntington University and the LaFontaine Arts Council. Once finished, the building will include 37 market-rate apartments and a center for community arts.

“We anticipate the residential portions will be ready sometime mid-summer,” Fetters announced, with the commercial space operational by the end of 2019.

Also during 2018, 12 Huntington County industrial projects were in the works, with seven of those in the City of Huntington, amounting to a private capital investment of about $24.3 million and creating 125 new jobs with an average hourly wage of $20.61.

Fetters also announced that with 97 percent of manufacturing business occupancy in Huntington, the city has purchased 127 acres of land for a new industrial park. The future site will be located to the west of Riverfork Industrial Park.

The anticipated new police station was another feather that Fetters pulled from the city’s cap. He said the $2.5 million 17,000-square-foot, two-story building that will be built on Cherry Street across from the City Building will be paid for with cash the city has on hand plus a Local Option Income Tax (LOIT) public safety bond and will not increase property or payroll taxes.

“It’s time for us to have a state-of-the-art police station that allows our detectives to come in from over at the old gas company building and to bring them into a spot, centralized downtown, where most of our activity happens, and to have a building that allows them to do the kind of work they need to do to keep citizens safe, and to help keep our community strong,” he added.

Other investments in the community in 2018 included 7.8 miles of street paving, 1.6 miles of alley improvements, 3.64 miles of trails, 3.91 miles of crack sealing, 2.1 miles of new sidewalks, 0.63 miles of water main work, 1.39 miles of sanitary sewer rehabilitation, 0.09 miles of new sanitary sewer lines, 2.7 miles of storm sewer lines and 69 ADA-compliant curb ramps installed.

Finally, Fetters announced it was a record year for volunteerism in Huntington. He said in 2018, 5,947 volunteers spent 19,366 hours on 158 projects, amounting to a value of $400,000 making improvements to the city and its neighborhoods. He said while things in Huntington are not perfect, they are making progress.

“What I would ask each and every one of you and all the citizens of Huntington and our wider community today, is to just embrace at an emotional, loving level, our community,” he said. “We can all focus on the flaws and the faults, but I’ll tell you what – there’s 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, and people are finding ways to show their love for Huntington.”