Group seeks compost site for Veterans Park
The city of Ironton hosts several large-scale events each year.
Many of these events are usually fitted onto busy city streets that must be closed to vehicle traffic, sometimes hindering commerce during the time of the events.
Friends of Ironton, Inc., has a plan it believes is a remedy.
FOI wants a 25-year lease to develop an event park on land the city owns and now uses as a compost site. It is behind the Ironton Hills Shopping Center, near Moulton Field. Thursday, FOI Vice President Rick McKnight took the organization’s plan to Ironton City Council.
City leaders have agreed to meet with FOI members in the near future to discuss the idea.
When FOI was formed in 2004, the idea was to bring people — especially people willing to spend money — to Ironton, to improve the city through various projects (replacing aging street signs, for instance) and to promote the city and what it has to offer. The club did this in part by staging large-scale events aimed at attracting hundreds if not thousands of visitors, such as its Rally on the River for motorcycle enthusiasts, the Gus Macker 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament that draws thousands of sports enthusiasts and last year’s first-ever Octoberfest, a take on the city’s German roots.
“We’ve brought guests here from as far away as North Carolina and Tennessee,” McKnight said.
Most of these events have been staged at least in part on Second Street between Park Avenue and the Ironton-Russell Bridge and a vacant lot in front of the old Depot or in the once vacant lot that now houses Empire Metal Recycling.
McKnight pointed out Thursday that the organization’s success with these events and the city’s success in attracting new business has created a bit of a problem.
“We’ve outgrown every place,” McKnight said. “We can’t use the grounds of Empire (metal recycling) because they are open Saturdays now. We’ve got a new restaurant in the Depot and we don’t want to block their doors or Melini’s doors or anyone else’s doors. We want them to thrive.”
But herein lies the problem.
“Huntington wants Rally on the River, but we didn’t start it to move it to Huntington,” McKnight said. “We want to stay in Ironton but we can’t unless we have got ground to move onto.”
The city owns a large plot of land off Lawrence Street Road, behind Buffalo Wild Wings, that is now used as a compostable materials dump site. While city leaders intended to raise the area out of the floodplain by dumping yard waste and organic waste there, the area is also known as a late-night hangout with a dubious reputation.
“The area is now drug-infested and a lot of babies have been started out there. You know what I’m talking about,” McKnight told Council. His frank statement was met with amused snickers.
FOI would like to take the land, fence it in and gate it to keep people out and create a large park to accommodate the crowds during planned community activities. It would be known as Veterans Park, in honor of the area’s former servicemen and servicewomen.
It would have a concrete stage, bleachers and concrete restrooms. McKnight said he would also like to see space for campers so those who drive long distances to get here have a choice of sleeping arrangements. And FOI plans to foot the bill for the project; money for it will not come out of the municipal pocket, McKnight said.
McKnight said FOI must sign a new three-year contract with the Gus Macker organization by Nov. 12, so he would like some answer from Council as soon as possible, preferably within 60 days.
Councilman Richard Price asked if other areas might also be suitable for such an event park. McKnight said FOI members were willing to listen to other ideas.
Councilman Bob Cleary wanted to know if FOI was interested in using part of the city’s industrial park on the south end of town for Rally on the River. McKnight said he would like to move ROR to that site but needed permission from the Ironton Port Authority to do so.
The idea of Veterans Park rated an initial thumbs up from some council members and some questions about how to turn a collective inspiration into actuality.
“I think as long as the solicitor gives his blessing, I’m 110 percent for it,” Council President Chuck O’Leary said.
“We have to find another place for the compost but I think we can accommodate.”
Councilman Butch Huff asked if developer William Trembley would have any objections. Trembley owns the Ironton Hills Shopping Center on the hill overlooking the site. McKnight said there were no plans to use the actual hillside, just the filled-in area at the bottom of it.
Some expressed concern the area was in a floodplain and whether that would preclude building a park in the area.
Exactly how to transfer control of the land to the non-profit, non-governmental entity is another question that must be answered before the land can change hands. Anderson pointed out that if the city leases or sells property, state law requires that property be put up for bid.
City leaders may, however, include stipulations about the use of the land, thus essentially preserving it for an event park. The city could also enter into a management agreement with FOI to operate a park, he said.
While McKnight did not walk away with a signed piece of paper, some council members said the park is almost a certainty that just needs fine-tuning.
“I think it’s safe to say this a done deal, we just need to work out the details,” Huff said. “I don’t think anyone on council objects to it. I don’t see why anyone would be against it.”
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