Town and Gown conference: Revitalizing a neighborhood

James Heggen

James Hunt talked about changing the way a community lives through his experience in revitalizing a university neighborhood.

Hunt is executive director of Sunnyside Up Project: The Campus Neighborhoods Revitalization Corporation in Morganstown, West Virginia, where West Virginia University is located. The organization receives the majority of its funding both from the city and the university.

The session was part of the 5th Annual Best Practices in Building University/City Relations Conference held this year in Ames.

The conference is put on by the International Town and Gown Association, an organization of university cities for discussing issues unique to these types of cities.

Hunt, who is the third director of the organization that was formed in 2002, talked about his group’s work in renovating the Sunnyside neighborhood.

The student neighborhood is in between the two campuses of West Virginia and had become run-down and dilapidated.

“And was literally decaying as you looked at it,” he said.

The neighborhood had been known for burning couches and dumpsters.

It was so bad that when Hunt would tell people about working on it, they would tell him “good luck, because it can’t get any worse.”

Hunt said the group has done a lot of work in efforts to curb vandalism, bring buildings up to code and bring business to the area.

At one point the neighborhood had more Dumpster fires than the entire state of West Virginia during a year’s time, he said. But the fine was only $50, and didn’t go on a person’s record. That has since been changed to a felony offense and a $1,000 to $2,000 fine.

Many of the residential properties in town have been renovated, both on the inside and outside. Hunt said the group held meetings with the property owners and suggested efficiency improvements for their properties.

The outsides of these buildings have also been improved in part because of facade grants, which matched up to $3,000 for renovation costs.

The university also built a new $24 million honors building in the neighborhood, which is attracting honors students to the area who want to live close to the building.

“The beauty of it is the students now want to live close to the honors hall,” Hunt said.