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Frances Strickland visits Ironton, Ro-Na Theatre

IRONTON — Ohio First Lady Frances Strickland made a visit to Ironton Thursday afternoon. Strickland met with local officials to discuss the restoration of the Ro-Na Theatre.

Katrina Keith, benefit specialist for the city of Ironton, started the discussion of the project. She began by apologizing that Mayor Rich Blankenship could not be at the event.

Blankenship was out of town visiting his sick father.

“Our main agenda right now is to talk about something that is passionate to me,” Keith said. “I love that building.”

Keith added that though she never saw the theater while it was in operation, it is still very important to her.

“This project is in my heart, this project is in my spirit,” Keith said. “ I need you to buy into this community. I need you to pour into this project.”

The now dilapidated structure was once a thriving theater before it was closed in the 1970s. The City of Ironton owns the building and is raising money through donations to fund the project.

Keith told those gathered that it is more than just restoration and bringing jobs to the city, the Ro-Na project is about empowering people.

“We need a place where these people can go and be inspired,” Keith said, adding that right now the Ironton Artists Association have to meet in churches and other civic groups could use a place to meet.

Local businesswoman Yvonne DeKay represents one of the community groups that hopes to use the Ro-Na eventually.

DeKay, who has owned a dance studio in the city for 45 years, would love to one day be able to use the theater for not only performances but as a community and arts center.

“One thing I’m looking forward to is having adult entertainment that’s clean and fun,” she said after a tour of the theatre. “I can’t wait to have the first New Year’s Eve party here.”

The project is an effort to bring more people downtown, Ralph Kline, assistant executive director of the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action, told the assembly.

“The mission is to get people to the downtown,” Kline said. Ironton, like most small cities, went through a period of economic decline in the 1980s, he said.

“We have to do something, because it’s not a wave of a magic wand. It’s a comprehensive plan,” he said. “They have to want to be here.”

The First Lady’s visit coincides with a trip she was taking to explore the possibility of starting a statewide tour to promote business. The project is in the preliminary stages.

Strickland, who toured the facility following the meeting, said the effort to restore the theater is commendable.

“It shows pride in place,” Strickland said. “A hometown love as I said.”