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Ro-Na fundraising campaign kicks off

IRONTON — The long, yet much anticipated road to restore downtown’s Ro-Na Theatre back to her past glories took a significant step in recent days.

The highly organized and ambitious “Ro-Na Restoration Project” fundraising campaign kicked off this week attempting to raise nearly $200,000 in donations to complete phase one of the theater’s much-anticipated makeover.

Organized by the city’s Ro-Na Steering Committee, the goal of the fundraising initiative is to raise enough money to offset the costs the city of Ironton could incur in replacing and rebuilding the theater’s patchwork decking and roof that has allowed extensive water damage to the building’s interior.

“The letters are out there and money is coming in on the Ro-Na,” explained steering committee member Bill Dickens, who serves as the economic development director for the city of Ironton.

A large chunk of the letters sent were intended to tap into many of the out-of-town businesses and contractors who have received work in the city to support the continued redevelopment of the Ro-Na and downtown.

The committee has also printed a double-sided fundraising brochure that can be mailed to the committee with donations made with cash or check.

The city’s Website will soon have the brochure available for download.

Donations to the Ro-Na are tax deductible.

The city of Ironton currently owns the theater and has pledged to pick up its portion of the roofing and decking tab with monies currently allocated in the city’s Debt Retirement Sinking Fund.

The fund is an account the city can use to make improvements to specific assets not covered in other budgets. The fund acquires money through the sale of city assets — mostly property.

A sinking fund is not funding from any type of citizen tax dollars.

As it stands, the city will be picking up the tab for the labor to install the decking and roofing materials along with the roofing materials themselves.

The decking materials are being purchased with $25,000 the Ironton Port Authority donated towards the Ro-Na as part of the Honeywell property sale to Mi-De-Con Construction, Inc.

Mayor Rich Blankenship said last month the city and committee were intending to “exhaust all avenues” in fundraising before having to tap into the city’s funds. Officials hope to have the roof on the Ro-Na by the fall.

Phase two of the restoration project is rebuilding the faade and interior of the 60-year-old theater while phase three focuses on the rehabilitating the intricate historic details of the Ro-Na.

Dickens said the city would attempt to secure community development block grants for phase two.

Opening in 1949, the once-glorious Ro-Na is part of a generation of vaudeville houses and movie palaces throughout the state that have fallen on hard times in recent decades.

Since being used as an auto parts store, the roof has decayed and rain has damaged items that were left in the building. Engineers have said that, other than the roof, the 60-year-old building is in good structural condition.

The deed to the Ro-Na was transferred to the city in February 2008. Besides the theater, three storefronts that bookend the theatre were also part of the package.

The long term goal is for the city to donate the Ro-Na to a to-be-created, non-for-profit, 501c3 charitable group when restoration is complete.

The thought process is that the city would have a better chance than a non-for-profit, to secure downtown development grants that could ease the financial burden in repairing the Ro-Na.