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Grant money to focus on downtown upgrades

On Thursday, Mayor Rich Blankenship made it official: Ironton is getting a $400,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Development to improve the downtown area.

“It is going to benefit downtown greatly,” Blankenship said. “Along with the America in Bloom project, it is going to make downtown look much better. I’m excited for this.”

Blankenship and other officials traveled to Columbus on Thursday to a ceremony that named Ironton as one of six towns in the state to get money from ODD.

The money will go to 13 businesses to complete building code and fa?ade improvements

In addition, the city will install two restrooms; construct a performance stage; bury electrical, cable, and telephone lines; and improve approximately 1,900 linear feet of sidewalks and two parking lots.

The grant money will be leveraged with other grants to make a $4.8 million pot for improvements. One of the plans, called Depot Square, is to turn a downtown municipal lot and surrounding area around Bobby Bare Boulevard into a farmer’s market, which will feature a shelter area that will look like a baggage claim area to fit in with the historic train depot building that now houses Austyn’s restaurant.

The stage would be near the Ironton-Russell Bridge.

“It will be a really nice thing when it is done,” Blankenship said.

He added the project should take about two years with construction beginning as early as this summer.

Ironton City Council Chairman Bob Cleary said it is a tremendous project that has been in the works for a long while.

“The whole downtown is starting to shape up,” he said. “I think this will bring a lot of people into downtown and that’s what we are trying to achieve.”

He said one of the goals is to clean up the area more.

“The farmers market is going to be sheltered, the parking lot is going to be bricked over,” he said. “It is going to add so much class to that area.”

He said the proposed water park may be added to the area to give kids an area to play in.

“It’s all about putting the heart of Ironton back in downtown again,” Cleary said.

A comprehensive downtown revitalization plan was 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 to coincide 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.