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City gets funding for downtown plan

The City of Ironton’s plans to revitalize its downtown will get a big lift today — in the form of a $400,000 grant — from the Ohio Department of Development.

While no official announcement has been made, an ODD spokesperson confirmed a ceremony at 2 p.m. today at the statehouse in Columbus would name the recipients of the Tier II Community Development Block Grant funds.

The ODD official confirmed that representatives from six Ohio communities receiving $2.4 million in grant funds would be attending the meeting. It was confirmed that Ironton’s grant request of $400,000 was fully funded, coming from ODD’s Downtown Revitalization Program.

Several key Lawrence County officials including new Mayor Rich Blankenship and representatives from the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization traveled to Columbus.

“This is really key. These are more valuable dollars than others because they can be used to match other dollars,” Ralph Kline, assistant executive director of the CAO, said after learning that ODD had confirmed the award.

“What this does is leverage Department of Transportation dollars and makes a much larger impact on the infrastructure and can be used as incentive dollars for private investment. … This is the glue that holds all this together. It is crucial.”

The county applied earlier this year for the funding that will be used for downtown infrastructure improvements including parking, streets and sidewalks along Bobby Bare Boulevard, an area that is being re-envisioned as Depot Square.

The overall project will include parking lot improvements, a sheltered passenger platform, a farmers market and may ultimately lead to a stage area.

This phase is part of a more comprehensive downtown revitalization plan developed by the Poggemeyer Design Group of Bowling Green.

That plan 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.

Officials envision this entire downtown project — which will be as much as a $4.8 million investment, including private funding — coincides with several other ongoing efforts. Those include a public transit station, implementation of the Ironton in Bloom beautification initiative and development of a Main Street program.

Further design work is expected to follow throughout the winter and actual building improvements could begin as early as summer 2008.