Huntington's central business district is located to the south of the Ohio River, east of the Robert C. Byrd Bridge, and west of Hal Greer Boulevard. Broad avenues and streets dominate the streetscape, creating for the most part an even grid pattern. Another business district is in Old Central City, known for its numerous antique shops and Heiner's Bakery.
Several major industries line the river, from the Steel of West Virginia industrial complex next to Marshall University to Special Metals, located along the Guyandotte River int he Altizer neighborhood. The proximity of the Ohio River played an important role in the development of heavy industry in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Rust Belt deindustrialization era of the 1970s led to a decline in the industrial base and, subsequently, Huntington's population.
The saving grace, in terms of employment, has been the steadily-growing service sector. Two major hospitals, St. Mary's and Cabell-Huntington, have seen major expansion projects that have doubled their footprints during the past twenty years.
The city's architecture contains a wealth of historic structures, most built during the boom of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. Notable structures include the 12-story Fifth Third Bank (formerly St. James) Building, with its huge Doric columns presenting a grand entrance to the ornate lobby. The West Virginia Building is a deep-red brick structure that looms over 4th Avenue and at the time of its completion, was the tallest tower in the state but has since fallen to 18th, behind the office towers of Charleston. Numerous others are scattered throughout the downtown, ranging from the beautifully restored Guaranty Bank and Trust Building to the high-rise Coal Exchange Building. Grand residential homes and mansions line along Ritter Creek and the steep hills that loom behind it, many built by the railroad barons of the past.
A new Holiday Inn hotel complex was constructed in 1998 between 8th and 9th Streets. In 2004, construction began on Pullman Square, a lifestyle center, which consumed the remainder of the Superblock. It opened later that year.
In July 2006, work began on the improved 9th Street Plaza, which features 12-foot sidewalks, outdoor seating for restaurants, two 11-foot travel lanes, and center angled parking. Brick pedestals were constructed that hold two spires from the former 6th Street Bridge, installed at the entrances to the plaza at 3rd and 5th Avenues. The new 9th Street Plaza reopened on December 1, and creates a symbolic link between the Pullman Square district and the remainder of downtown.
As a result of much needed downtown investment, numerous properties have been renovated or are in the process of renovations and new storefronts and lofts are being constructed. One of the spin-offs from the construction of Pullman Square was the renovation of the 900 block of 3rd Avenue, which was nearly all vacant. . The renovation of numerous facades elsewhere, such as the removal of metal sheathing over brickwork, have been ongoing. During the construction of Pullman Square, the renovations along the 900 block of 3rd Avenue commenced with most storefronts now being rented out. On the Friday after Thanksgiving in 2007, Le Cook Store opened across from Pullman Square opened; the Marshall Community and Technical College's Culinary Institute, which offers cooking classes and sample food tastings, opened. . Another tenant, C.F. Reuschlein Jewelers, opened during the same month along the block;
Heritage Village was completed on September 2, 1977. It features the 1892 Baltimore and Ohio Railroad passenger station, a 1911 Baltimore and Ohio Railroad freight house, and the 1871 Bank of Huntington building. The railroad structures from the Baltimore and Ohio became obsolete in 1965 with the consolidation of its operations into the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad in Huntington. The Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad donated two boxcars and the railroad historical society donated a steam engine and a Southern Railway sleeping car, also called a pullman.
The original plan, designed in 2003, entailed the construction of gardens and a public plaza along Hal Greer Boulevard at 4th and 5th Avenues adjacent to Marshall University, along with the streetscape improvements. The gardens and public plazas were eliminated from the revamped plans due to cost. The new design is estimated to cost $2.5 million. Funding has been secured for the project between 9th and 10th Streets along 4th Avenue with construction beginning in 2007. $350,000 has been requested in a federal transportation enhancement grant that would cover the cost of streetscape improvements between Hal Greer Boulevard and 12th Street; construction on that section could begin in 2008.
The final result will include the repaving of 4th Avenue and the reduction of lanes from four to two; one-lane in each direction with left-turn lanes at each intersection, and the addition of bike lanes from Hal Greer Blvd. to 6th Street; on-street parking will not be affected. New trees and street lights, similar to what was installed along 3rd Avenue near Pullman Square and along 9th Street, will be installed along 4th Avenue. Other safety improvement projects and traffic calming features, such as the replacing of sidewalks and curb extensions, will enhance pedestrian safety.