Property owners hear plans, options at meetingPublished 11:37am Thursday, December 5, 2013
The ongoing joint effort not only to revitalize but improve downtown Ironton took a big step forward on Wednesday when property owners and potential investors heard from economic development officials about their vision and willingness to cooperate.
Lawrence Economic Development Corporation (LEDC) Housing Research Director Sam Heighton told the nearly 30 owners during a meeting at the Transit Café he had been inspecting the areas above downtown businesses since June.
“Revitalizing downtown with economic development could be a case of the chicken and the egg,” Heighton said. “Do more downtown residents expand retail or does more retail increase the desire to live close to the retail?”
Heighton said he believes economic development follows people and the results of his research shows numbers favorable to the property owners. Of the 173 apartments or spaces for apartments in downtown Ironton, 41 are current living spaces, 34 were once used as residences and 98 have never been occupied. The 173 apartments encompass nearly 103,000 square feet and 65 are one bedroom, 78 two bedrooms and the rest are three bedrooms. He tallied 69 existing bathrooms.
“As you can see,” Heighton said, “the numbers are in our favor. We need only to enhance our properties so people want to and can afford to live there.”
A major issue discussed by Heighton, LEDC Executive Director Dr. Bill Dingus and Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization Assistant Executive Director of Development and Planning Ralph Kline was the area’s parking situation.
“When marketing buildings, can we provide parking is a question we have to ask,” Kline said. “There is some transportation money available for some things like that.”
Heighton’s findings revealed 25 garage parking spaces, 12 existing spaces and 38 off-street parking spots.
Dingus told the owners the main issue facing them is whatever they determine.
“We want to know what can be done to support you collectively,” he said. “If you say parking is the most important thing then we will look at ways to get that done.”
Dingus and Kline spoke about available tax credits for improvements made. “You set our priorities for us here today,” Dingus said.
Adhering to building codes was another issue discussed at length and John Willis of building and code enforcement for the City of Ironton and architect Mike Asebrook of Asebrook and Co. in Columbus answered several questions from owners about state and city building codes.
“Some of your buildings have aged and need to be razed,” Dingus said. “If any of you decide it would be more beneficial to you to do that then we will try and find a way to help you eradicate that building.”
Kline addressed the crowd by asking the owners who have current apartments or buildings that could potentially be converted into residences to determine what obstacles they are facing.
“The LEDC could possibly partner with property owners to bring it up to code if it is a code issue,” Kline said. “There are ways to partner with the CAO for management of your property. We want to hear what you have to say and whatever we can’t tell you today, we want to follow up.”
Developing a residential area downtown is critical, Kline said, keeping government offices downtown and routinely holding large and small events is crucial to developing traffic.
Many of the improvement projects already completed or under way — such as the riverfront development and Ninth Street Project — were also discussed along with a façade improvement program available through the City of Ironton.
There are currently seven buildings for sale downtown and a color printout of said buildings along with addresses was distributed at the meeting.
“The timing is right.Great things are happening in this special place,” Heighton said. “I believe downtown housing is an important piece of the puzzle.”