Leaders have plan for downtown revitalization

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A little more than three months ago, city leaders unveiled a plan to revitalize the city of Ironton by focusing first on its strengths within the core business district and then creating new life around that foundation.

Since then, those charged with bringing these plans to fruition have been busy — very busy — seeking the money to pay for the project and seeking support from people in the community.

“I think things are going well,” said Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization Assistant Executive Director Ralph Kline, who is one of the people spearheading the effort. “There are a lot of balls being juggled at this point.”

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The downtown revitalization plan, developed by the Poggemeyer Design Group of Bowling Green, calls for, among other things, encouraging private improvements to downtown buildings, improving signage and pedestrian comforts to make the city more attractive and convenient, incorporating a transit station in an area between Vernon and Washington streets (south of Second Street) to accommodate a bus system and improving parking adjacent to the nearby depot that is now home to Austyn’s restaurant.


In late June, the Ohio Department of Development reviewed the city’s preliminary, or threshold, funding application and liked what it saw.

ODD officials invited local leaders to submit a final application for Tier 2 funding. At stake is $400,000 that can be used for public facility improvements (sidewalks, etc.) and as leverage to obtain other government grants.

The final application must be submitted by early October. City leaders should know by winter if they made the cut for what Kline called “very competitive” dollars.

If the city gets the Tier 2 funding, Kline said 2008 will be a year of activity. Further design work would follow throughout the winter months and Kline said actual building improvements could begin as early as summer 2008.

City leaders are also pursuing National Historic Preservation status for two buildings, the Brumberger building that houses Guy’s Floor Covering, and the Marlow building that houses Tim’s News and Novelties. Such a designation would make available both federal and state tax credits that could amount to 50 cents for every dollar spent on improvements.

City leaders have already received a $200,000 facade improvement grant for the Marlow building and are seeking money as well from the KYOVA interstate planning commission.

A planned bus system to serve parts of Lawrence County would be paid for in part by federal transit monies.

An ounce of promotion

Kline and others involved in the project recently met with downtown merchants to discuss the plan and how it will impact businesses in the targeted area. Jim Staley, of Staley’s Pharmacy, was one of those who attended the meeting. He said he was pleased with the overall plans and interested in what specific ideas designers will have for his store facade.

“I was really pleased and I am looking forward to seeing the next presentation, as far as my business is concerned,” Staley said.

Staley said he was pleased also that so many other property owners attended the meeting.

Kline has also taken the plan to area civic groups, such as the Ironton Rotary Club.

Good track record

Phil Honsey, planning department manager with Poggemeyer Design Group, said Ironton has more going for it than people might think.

For one thing, the city has had other revitalization projects over the years and these have been successful.

Another asset: the city has a true downtown with multi-story buildings grouped together, instead of spread out over a large geographical area.

“With river valley towns, you have a compressed downtown, economically, so you have more of a chance for the downtown to remain viable,” Honsey said.

Another plus, Honsey said, is that the city’s leaders recognize that big plans can’t be accomplished overnight.

“They recognize there is a process to get there and they are going one step at a time,” Honsey said. “They know to bite off only what they can chew and I’m pleased with this approach. I think they’re going in the right direction.”