Bed and breakfasts in Ironton were once prosperous

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 25, 2003

As Ironton City Council continues to debate allowing bed and breakfast establishments in residential neighborhoods, answers may be found in the city's past and with its neighbors.

For the last two years, the sole option for lodging has been the Lyle Motel at 1515 S. Third St., but Ironton has some recent history of offering a bed and breakfast to travelers.

The Sheridan House was located at Seventh Street and Park Avenue, and provided travelers an Irish-themed home to visit.

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Opening in 1995 and closing its doors in August 2001, owner Pat Sheridan said that he did not close the business

because it was unsuccessful.

"We were busy, but it just ties you down and is real time consuming," he said. "We ran it ourselves, and it was hard to get away to go on vacation."

Although the Sheridans have more time on their hands now, Pat said he

misses it sometimes.

"The best part was the people you meet from diverse backgrounds," he said. "We never had any problems at all with our guests."

Sheridan said no one from the city has talked with him about his experiences, but he thinks that, if done properly, bed and breakfasts could benefit the city.

"I do not see any problems, but the residents may," he said. "Personally, I do not think it would be a detriment to any neighborhood."

Any such business should be able to be successful financially, he said.

"I do not see why the community could not support it," Sheridan said. "If someone is willing to take the chance, then they should have the opportunity."

Dave Milem, a board member of the Lawrence County Historical Society, said he does not think bed and breakfasts would hurt any of the historical neighborhoods, if done properly.

"If they go about it right and do not step on anyone's toes, I do not see how it could be a negative thing," he said. "Ironton desperately needs boarding rooms. There are very little, if any, places available."

Although unfamiliar with the specifics of the restrictions discussed, Milem said he agrees that it should be limited, and should be examined on an individual basis.

Viviane Khounlavong, director of the Greater Lawrence County Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, said she receives five or six requests each day about bed and breakfast lodging in Ironton and Lawrence County.

"I honestly think it would be a great success," she said. "Ironton has so many beautiful, historic homes that it would be a shame not to offer a bed and breakfast."

As far as too many establishments popping up and flooding the market, she does not think that would be a problem.

"I think there would be only a few," she said. "I think people in Ironton are so close that the community would be very supportive."

She also pointed out that only 12 miles from Ironton, in Franklin Furnace, George and Bobbie Sich have been successful operating The Riverview Bed and Breakfast Inn.

Located at 91 Riverview Drive along the Ohio River between Portsmouth and Ironton, the inn provides a quiet atmosphere and river retreat, George Sich said.

He also said he and his wife believe the community could easily support more establishments like theirs.

"Any bed and breakfast that would open in Ironton would be complementary rather than competition, and we would probably want to work with them," George Sich said. "We feel there is a niche available for quality lodging facilities in Ironton and Lawrence County for that matter."

He warned that anyone deciding to open up their home must have the right attitude and personality.

"You have to be willing to bring people in and offer the same hospitality you would offer a relative," he said, "You must be able to offer restful, relaxation at your business while providing all the amenities of a four- or five-star hotel."

The Sichs both agree with Sheridan that the personal interaction is very rewarding.

"Our guests have been wonderful," George said. "They have brought to us experiences we probably would never have shared otherwise."

Although some limitations are necessary, George said he does not thinks the city would see a huge increase in establishments or traffic.

"It is almost self-limiting because many people feel funny about staying in someone's home," he said. "We have had to try to overcome that stigma. Ironton is not going to be overwhelmed with hundreds of cars."

Originally discussed years ago, the issue first resurfaced in September when City Council Chairman Jesse Roberts proposed an ordinance.

Since September, it has been amended three times.

The first amendment dictated that signs must be commercial grade, cannot be illuminated and must meet other city codes. In November, it was amended to allow only one bed and breakfast within a six-block radius.

Last Thursday, it was amended to say that all licenses must be renewed in January, the yearly cost will be prorated down if licenses are purchased after the first four months of the year, and all proceeds from licenses will go to the city's general fund.

Although the majority of Council supports the concept in some form, there has been much discussion over the specifics of the restrictions. The ordnance is designed to be restrictive so that the city would not be flooded with these businesses.

Sixty percent of the adjacent property owners must agree, sufficient rooms and off-street parking must be available, the occupancy must be short-term, the owner must purchase a non-transferable, $500 annual license and must also live in the home and operate it.

Mayor Bob Cleary said that he supports the concept, but is not sure if the current legislation is the answer.

"I believe that Ironton, being a historic community, has quite a potential for bed and breakfasts," he said. "I do not know if the six-block radius will allow it to enhance the historic areas because it is too restrictive. It may only allow for one because we only have 12 to 14 blocks of historic neighborhoods."

Cleary said he hopes Council continues to look at the issue and tweaks the ordinance so it can best serve the community.

"We could have some really well-ran establishments if the legislation does not make it more trouble than it is worth," he said.

The ordinance will be sent to the zoning committee to be reviewed and discussed in a public hearing Thursday at the City Center, although Cleary was not sure of the exact time.

It must pass three full readings by Council. If the zoning committee approves the ordinance, Council can pass it with a simple majority. If the committee does not approve it, Council would require six of seven votes to adopt it.