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Rebuilding the Ro-Na

Ironton officials should know by the end of June whether the Ro-Na Theatre renovation project will receive state historic tax credits.

The project stands to receive about $3 million in state and federal tax credits, said Ralph Kline, assistant executive director over development and planning for the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization.

Kline has been working on the tax credit application.

The federal tax credit is guaranteed, while the city will have to compete for the state credit. The state will look at the overall investment in the project, how it will improve the community, the job creation and the geographic distribution of these types of tax credits. That last part is especially good for Ironton’s project, Kline said.

“Generally, there are very few in southern Ohio,” he said. Kline added that the city received state tax credit for another project recently and is hopeful for this one.

The Ironton City Council Thursday night passed a resolution indicating its intent to transfer the Ro-Na Theatre to the Ironton Port Authority, provided that the project receives the tax credits.

Paul Woods, IPA chairman, said the tax credit application reflects the city’s intent to transfer it to the non-profit agency.

If the tax credits are received, the property will eventually be transferred to the Old Engineers, LLC, Woods said. Old Engineers is a for-profit entity comprised of the Ironton Port Authority, Lawrence County Port Authority, CAO, and the Lawrence Economic Development Corporation.

Woods said the IPA will pursue grants and other funding for the project.

“We think it’s important to provide the community with the arts and entertainment center which would attract people to downtown,” Woods said. As the downtown area grows, so will jobs, he said.

Mayor Rich Blankenship said the city will continue to support the renovation efforts even when it is transferred to the IPA and Old Engineers.

“This is a community project,” Blankenship said. “We’re not asking them to just take it over. The city has a role. The Ro-Na steering committee has a role. We’re not asking these people to disappear.”

The mayor said, that at the time the city received the theater, he gave city council the option of tearing it down or renovating it. Council accepted the responsibility of renovating it.  So far the theater has been cleared of asbestos and work on the structure’s roof is nearly complete.

Blankenship said the city is doing its part to renovate the theatre.

“Now it’s time to ask for help,” Blankenship said. “The city has been proactive in not just asking for handouts.”

The city is accepting donations for the project and has requested state and federal funding.

“It’s another building that I’m not going to allow to sit like Memorial Hall did,” Blankenship said.  “They boarded up the windows and left. I don’t think that’s good leadership.”

A definite plan has not been established for the renovation efforts, but Blankenship said he hopes the theater will one day house community events like conferences and art displays.

“It’s not up to me to say the final plan. I want the community involved in this project,” he said.

So far, the community has been involved. A recent dinner theater fundraiser event at Ohio University South raised about $3,500, he said.

“It’s amazing what people can do when they put their minds to it,” Blankenship said.