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Social Security, KFC eyeing move out of downtown Ironton

IRONTON — Under the clock, Ironton City Council tentatively backed a proposal that would provide sewer access to nearly 15 acres of land city officials, Realtors and developers hope to annex from Upper Township for possible commercial development.

The support, drafted in haste in the form of a hand-written letter at a special Tuesday session, backs the first stage of a process that could witness several businesses vacating downtown Ironton and moving into new homes on land across from the Ironton Hills Plaza on State Route 93.

At issue is a proposal by Wheelersburg developer John W. Mullins of Mullins Construction to purchase between 12 to 15 acres of land in the Coryville area and develop the property for commercial business use. The acreage is currently scattered with residential homes, which Mullins said his company already has unanimous consent by the property owners to sell for development.

“We want to go where the new growth is going to be in Ironton,” Mullins said.

Mullins told council that should the city be able to annex the land and grant sewer access, he already has commitments with both the Social Security Administration and fast-food giant KFC to move out of their downtown locations and up to his property.

Debbie Dickens of Ironton-based M&M Realty told council that government officials representing the Social Security Administration had been looking for a new location within Ironton city limits since May as they were having “issues with the current management of the property.”

As for KFC, Mullins said new corporate rules have made its current South Second Street home unfit for expansion and its current business model and would have to be in a new home by June 2010.

Mullins added that CVS Pharmacy — another downtown tenant, with a store at Ironton Hills, — also showed an interest in moving across State Route 93 to the property, but are locked into a five-year lease on its current home.

However, for the SSA move to happen, the General Services Administration — the federal agency responsible for transportation and office space for federal employees — needed a “letter of support” from the city by 5 p.m. Thursday backing possible annexation and a commitment to extend city sewer lines to the property.

After nearly an hour of discussion, council gave Dickens her letter, but the former Ironton city councilwoman only got half of what she asked for.

Council would not make a full commitment to install and extend sewer lines to the property should it become annexed.

Council said pricing of such an installation and possible private property right-of-way issues were concerns.

City engineering consultant Doug Cade of E.L. Robinson said early estimates for running 900 feet of sewer lines from Ninth Street under U.S. 52 and up to the property could cost $300,000.

In its “letter of support” the city stopped short of making a full commitment to install sewers instead saying they would provide access to their sewer network.

Dickens told council that the need to annex the land is based on current needs.

“Ironton really has limited land for development,” Dickens explained while saying downtown is not the fit many businesses are looking for.

How the city would respond by allowing businesses to re-locate out of downtown while at the same time promoting downtown redevelopment tied into the rehabilitation of Memorial Hall and the Ro-Na Theater historic structures was a concern to many on council.

“Are we creating more of a ghost town effect with this,” asked Councilman Kevin Waldo.

Dickens offered this solution.

“We hope the success of this development could trickle down towards downtown.”

Council President Bob Cleary said any type of annexation would be difficult and with residential homes a large part of the annexation he could see Upper Township Trustees resisting such a move.

However Councilman Leo Johnson suggested the city totally bypass Upper Township and go straight to the Lawrence County Commissioners for approval based on recently passed laws from the Ohio Revised Code that allows single property owners the opportunity to annex themselves into the city.

Asked what new businesses the proposed commercial development could bring in, Mullins said he is in discussions with “three or four” people who have showed an interest including the possibility of a hotel or a Dairy Queen franchise, owned by Mullins brother’s step-son.

Mullins said his partner on the project, Jeff Albrecht of Portsmouth is currently the owner of several Ramada Inns that have shown an interest in coming to Ironton.

Also mentioned was a Holiday Inn Express, however concerns whether Ironton can support an 80-100 room hotel have been listed as potential stumbling block.