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A little help from the Friends

In less than two weeks, thousands of motorcyclists will roar into town for the ninth annual Rally on the River.

Hosted by the Friends of Ironton civic group, the Aug. 16-18 event, draws people from not only the Tri-State, but as far away as Canada. This year, organizers expect attendance to be up from the estimated 110,000 to 120,000 people who rallied in 2011.

FOI Vice President Dave Smith said increased traffic on the Rally on the River website is a possible indicator of attendance for this year.

“We have much higher profile national entertainment than we had last year, and the hits on our website are probably up three times what they have normally been,” Smith said. “We would expect between 120,000 to 140,000 for total attendance this year.”

So what does that mean for Ironton?


Rally Revenue

“The main priority with putting on the rally is to bring people to Ironton to see the city and bring revenue into the city,” Smith said. “The restaurants last year during the rally, I know a couple of them had the largest days they’d ever had. When you bring 100,000 people into town, they spend a lot of money.”

Last year’s rally netted the FOI about $20,000, which is the most it has ever made from the event, Smith said.

“There is a big misconception in the community that the Friends of Ironton is making tens of thousands of dollars on the rally,” Smith said. “We never have. Last year, we made $20,000. The year before that we made $3,000 and every year prior to that the rally either broke even or lost money. So it’s never been a big money maker.”

“But as long as we keep improving, we hope that some day it will be. That we’ll be able to function really well with that,” said Jane Griffith, FOI secretary.

Who are the FOI?

The Friends of Ironton are known largely by their work in putting on the rally and the Gus Macker basketball tournament, but the group has given back to the city in a number of ways.

“All of our revenue that we have goes back into the city,” Smith said.

All the members of the group, including all board members, are non-paid volunteers who organize fundraising events like the rally to pool money for various projects.

During the rally, Smith said 75 to 100 volunteers donate their time to help.

In winter months, volunteers help work concessions stands at the Big Sandy Arena. Griffith said anywhere from 50 to 60 people volunteer off and on during those events.

And more “Friends” are always welcome to join, she said.

“We’d love to have anyone who wants to volunteer,” Griffith said.

To find out about volunteer opportunities, contact Griffith at (740) 533-9833.

The president of the FOI is Rick Jansen. Smith is vice president and Griffith is secretary. Other board members are Jessica Williams, Jeff Mowery, Madeline Blackwell and Dean Nance.

“The Friends want to thank all of our sponsors and all the people who help put the rally together,” board member Jessica Williams said. “Without our volunteers and the hours they volunteer, there is no way this would be possible. An extra thank you to everyone who has helped this year and in future years to come.”


Where does the money go?

Past donations and projects for the group include the purchase of a flood control pump for the city’s public works department, bullet proof vests for city police officers, stops signs, donations to the Lawrence County Domestic Violence Task Force, picnic tables for Wayne National Forest and the construction of the spraypark on South Second Street.

And what about the $20,000 from last year’s rally?

That money went to fund the Friend’s largest project: Renovation of the historic Ro-Na theatre.

For the past four years, the FOI has worked to renovate the former theater into a multipurpose venue.

The work on the building began with the City of Ironton, which installed a new roof.

From there, the FOI took the reins and has plans to recreate the facility.

Plans for the Ro-Na include doubling the size of the stage area, adding an outdoor garden patio with stage enclosed by an 8-foot iron fence, a restaurant and bar with a custom 27-foot maple bar, kitchen, several banquet rooms and an auditorium fit for plays, recitals and concerts with removable seating.

“Our plans are for (the Ro-Na) to evolve in to a facility that simultaneously could have five functions going on at one time,” Smith said. “Our anticipation is for it to be the anchor for the downtown development and basically become the crown jewel of Ironton.”

In the main front room of the building, dry wall is being put up and painting and track lighting added to the ceiling.

A $15,000 power panel which branches off to different parts of the building and a new $3,500 five-ton heat pump and new ductwork have been added.

When the facility is complete, the FOI will rent the rooms to groups wanting to host events.

“This is not for Friends of Ironton,” Griffith said. “This is for Ironton. And it will be available for other groups.”


Rally in the Ro-Na

During the rally, the Ro-Na will be open for events. Some bands will perform in the auditorium and a bikini competition will also be held. The preliminary event will be Friday evening with the final event Saturday.

Draft beer will be served in the auditorium area for $4 per 20 oz. cup.

The main room outside of the auditorium, called “Friends Place,” will also be open with beer for sale. Canned beer is $3. Cans will not be allowed in the auditorium per restrictions from performing bands.

A tattoo artist from the reality TV series “LA Ink” will have a booth set up in the Ro-Na’s green room area.


Other Rally Details

The rally begins at 4 p.m. Aug. 16 and runs through Aug. 18. In past years, the rally has gone through Sunday, but organizers said they needed that day to focus on taking everything down.

“Sunday is cleanup and get back to normal day,” Griffith said. “There is a lot of clean up.”

New to the rally this year, admission bands will be required for any event. Bands will be different colors for each day at a cost of $5 per day. Three-day passes for $10 are also available.

There will be three ticket windows to purchase bands: In the parking lot on the side of the Ro-Na, at the rally entrance on Second Street near the senior center and at main entrance of Ro-Na.

The main stage for bands will be near the former Austyn’s restaurant. Bands to perform are Buckcherry, Black Stone Cherry, Kentucky Headhunters, Earthquakers and My Darkest Days.

A car and bike show will begin with registration from 5 to 7 p.m. that Friday at the Ironton Hills Shopping Plaza. Awards will be given at 7:30 p.m.

A poker run will start at Ironton Hills at noon the Saturday of the rally. The cost to ride the route is free. To participate in the poker drawing is $10 per person on the bike.