Can This Huntington Warehouse Become a Magnet for Artists?
A local factory that’s been vacant for more than ten years could be the next step in making Huntington the go-to place for artists in the state.
The Coalfield Development Corporation hopes a new idea can lead to a great outcome. They’ve purchased the former Corbin garment factory property in Westmoreland, a neighborhood just inside Huntington’s city limits in the west end of town. The Wayne County Economic Development Authority sold them the property for $110,000 in an effort to spark development in the area.
The Coalfield Development Corporation is a nonprofit that serves as a workforce training and life skills program for high school graduates from low-income areas of Wayne County. They will expand to Lincoln and Mingo counties soon. Brandon Dennison is the executive director of the Coalfield Development Corporation.
“I think this building in many ways symbolizes the challenges Huntington has had, this was a building that employed hundreds of people, globalization happened and it closed down and we lost a lot of our good jobs, but now it’s going to symbolize a new Huntington which is more creative and entrepreneurial, building on what’s great about the past, but shaping a more sustainable future,” Dennison said.
The trainees of the development corporation redevelop old properties to provide affordable housing while learning construction. They’ll renovate the Corbin plant in phases. The first phase will be to build warehouse and workshop space. The second phase will be building 8 to 12 residential units and shared work space in 3,000 square feet. The Coalfield Development Corporation has received a $350,000 grant from ArtPlace America, which provides grants throughout the country to help communities with creative spaces.
The project involves tearing apart and remodeling the inside of the factory. Inside the space will be a gallery and workshop space that will be open to the public, an area where people in the Coalfield Development Corporations jobs program will learn to and build furniture and a small business incubation space. Dennison said they’ll look at similar projects in Nashville and Louisville as examples.
He said the hope is that this could help revitalize an area burdened by an empty warehouse.
“It’s a strong middle class neighborhood, people take a lot of pride in living here and yet it’s also a neighborhood that’s threatened, abandoned buildings are a huge challenge here, drugs are slowly seeping their way in here,” Dennison said. “But this is a project, 100,000 square feet that’s big enough to turn the tide and that’s why we’re really banking on community involvement.”
Corbin closed the Huntington plant in 2002, just before declaring bankruptcy. The company made materials that were used in producing clothes. The nearly 100,000-square-foot space has been vacant since then and sits as a rundown eyesore attracting the wrong kind of attention to the neighborhood. He said in a few years they hope to see a facility that’s become engrained in the culture.
“We see a vibrant hub of creative activity, we see formerly unemployed people getting jobs working here running the warehouse and making beautiful furniture, we see people from all over the east coast coming here to buy it,’ Dennison said. “We artists living and working and becoming entrepreneurs in this building and we see the community engaged with the project as well.”
The total project budget is $1.3 million and Coalfield Development Corporation has raised $500,000 so far through the Art Place grant and a $150,000 low-interest loan. The renovation will start in the fall.