Community leaders discuss future of special events

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 29, 2007

How do you see Ironton’s future and what role do festivals and other special events play in that future?

That was the focus of a group discussion Wednesday night that involved several dozen community leaders and concerned Ironton residents.

The Friends of Ironton civic group organized the public meeting to get input on how to best continue its success at planning large-scale events and how to get more people and money flowing into the process.

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“We feel passionate about the city and want to see it succeed and grow from where it is today,” FOI President Rick Jansen said.

“From where it is today” is a long way from where it once was, said Dr. Bill Dingus, the executive director of the Greater Lawrence County Area Chamber of Commerce. He said the city may have had its struggles in the past but seems to have rebounded, in part because of a willingness of people to get involved in community events and work together to eliminate problems.

Dingus and Ralph Kline, the executive director of the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization, facilitated the event.

Some who attended said while the Gus Macker tournament, Rally on the River and Oktoberfest, FOI’s three main community events, have given area residents something to do, they have also allowed the city to showcase itself to people outside the area and draw in out-of-town dollars in the process.

“It’s also important to bring people here to see what Ironton is all about,” Ironton City Council Chairman Chuck O’Leary said.

Some thought area event planners should be coordinated to make sure festivals are not competing for time, attention and resources.

Others said they would like to see other events planned. The list of ideas ranged from family-oriented activities to sporting events to riverboat casino gambling.

FOI members have pointed out in the past that planning such events is not easy. It takes volunteers, money and, now that these festivals are growing, a larger space designed to accommodate those crowds. FOI has asked the city for permission to use a parcel of land along Lawrence Street Road as an events park dedicated for use during such functions.

Some suggested that FOI members look outside the city limits to get new sponsorship dollars, since businesses throughout Lawrence County and throughout the Tri-State, for that matter, benefit from the influx of people visiting these events.

As for finding volunteers, some suggested that other civic groups be contacted for their support.

“You’ve got to get volunteers for the type of event you’re planning,” Arthur Pierson said.

Others suggested that, to coordinate planning, look for sponsorship dollars and find the needed volunteers, FOI may have to hire a full-time, paid staff member.

“You can’t do all this with volunteer labor,” Ironton Port Authority President Bill Dickens said.