City looks to continue developing city center

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 22, 2004

It is now up to the Ironton City Council to make the next move towards developing the top floor of the city center.

Council will vote tonight on authorizing architectural firm Shawn Walker & Associates Inc. to finish design work for developing more than 5,800 square feet of the 13,640 square foot space.

The area is often called the fourth floor but is technically the third because the mezzanine should not be counted.

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The total cost of design work will be $11,709. Walker began last year but has completed less than 50 percent of the work since plans were in limbo after it became clear that Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital had decided not to relocate 50 jobs from its Russell, Ky., campus. So far, he has only been paid approximately $4,500, said City Engineer Phil Biggs.

"This will cover the complete design of the upstairs except for the floor space that was supposed to be provided for Our Lady of Bellefonte," he said. "OLBH paid for the initial work for them."

Walker will design the layout, plumbing, mechanical and electrical for the 5,800 square feet that will be used as office space for the municipal court and could accommodate new tenants. The 7,806 square feet that Bellefonte had planned to use will have to be added later after other tenants are identified, Biggs said.

The lack of a tenant has not come from a lack of effort. The city continues to look at a partnership with Ohio University Southern that would develop a technology incubator and physical location for new businesses.

When the Bellefonte deal fell apart, Mayor John Elam started brainstorming for new alternatives.

"We are still working on attracting new and emerging business," Elam said. "We are still exploring the the possibility of a technology center concept with OUS."

The university and the city hope to utilize the space as a technology hub, home for the WEB-IT program that will provide online marketing and

provide physical space for information technology companies.

Digital Details, the technology component of the business incubator, has already developed a 16-page catalog that showcases the services it can offer to companies including Web-site development, customized software,, online course creation and more.

"We can either do it for you or teach you how to do it," said Jim Crawford, director of OUS' Center for Innovation and Leadership.

The project remains only a possibility that is being investigated. Ideally, OUS would like to start construction and design in July or August and occupy the location 90 days later.

"The university is still definitely interested in moving forward with this project. Our interest has not changed or lessened," Crawford said. "I am confident we can find interested clients in the technology industry that want to locate there."

Several IT companies and individuals have already contacted the university to express their interests in bringing some jobs to Ironton, Crawford said.

Overall, Crawford said he remains encouraged by the response and is confident that this location will be appealing to other companies. Last month, he estimated that there is a 70 to 80 percent chance that this project will become a reality.