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DNA group has second meeting

More than 40 people attended the second Death to Negative Attitudes (DNA) meeting on Thursday at the Ro-Na Theater. Many of the same people along with some new faces brainstormed about progressive ideas and projects and if the discussion is any indication, negativity is becoming old hat in Ironton.

“We need to look and see where our interests lie in regard to the items on the list,” Jon Ferguson, executive director of Ironton aLive, said. “Some of these items may already be in progress and some we may need assistance with. We need to identify any that are sustainable, short-term goals we can accomplish.”

The list to which Ferguson referred was compiled after the first DNA meeting on Feb. 27 in Ironton when each person in attendance was asked to write and submit suggestions for business enhancement, design and promotions.

The submitted suggestions were collected, reviewed and categorized for the purpose of being discussed at Thursday’s meeting.

Each person received a copy of the list, an Ironton aLive brochure, and architectural renderings of Ironton’s Riverfront Development and Gateway projects.

Ironton Mayor Rich Blankenship gave a riverfront update and said grant money is already in place for many of the proposed upgrades.

Offering tax abatements to attract new businesses was atop the business enhancement suggestions and Blankenship said the city’s ordinances in regard to the matter are currently under review.

Lawrence County Commissioner Les Boggs said a recent change in Ohio allows offering a workers’ compensation incentive.

“Any new business — either starting up or relocating — can be eligible for a 25 percent reduction in its workers’ compensation premium,” Boggs said. “That’s a pretty good start.”

Blankenship said the city is not for eliminating the abatements altogether.

“It has to be give and take,” he said. “Eliminating the abatements so the schools get funding doesn’t make sense because we have to have jobs here, too.”

Businesses extending operating hours was discussed and the group agreed collectively that businesses would have to have a reason to extend hours, such as doing so during events.

Other business enhancement ideas proposed were imposing a penalty for empty commercial space, devise a marketing plan to shop locally, develop “shop here” maps and developing a progressive lease agreement plan.

“A progressive lease agreement plan would be applied on something like a 10-year lease,” Katrina Keith, chair of Ironton aLive, said. “For the first few years while someone is getting their business up and running we could offer a discount and increase it as the business starts making more money and by the end of the lease they are paying the full amount.”

Design suggestions include signage so tourists could easily find where things are located, development and re-development of the museum, riverfront, Ro-Na, courthouse and city center, place signs on churches, homes and other buildings in the historical district, more stringent enforcement of the city’s property maintenance ordinance, utilize the Ohio University Southern TV channel to promote local businesses and update current downtown street signs.

“I think the (Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization) is working on the signage,” Ferguson said. “There is a design plan in place for wayfarer signage that coincides with the current signs downtown.”

Having only one employee to enforce the city’s property maintenance ordinance is a disadvantage, Keith said.

“If we don’t have enough businesses to pay taxes,” she said, “we can’t properly police the situation.”

A suggestion was made by Ironton aLive board member Paul Woods that whenever the health department issues a property maintenance citation it is published in the newspaper.

Promotion suggestions include and outdoor amphitheater, bringing back Oktoberfest, a music and comedy open mic night at the Ro-Na, a “Run This Town” 5K run/walk to support the community, monthly car shows, a boys and girls club, walking paths and trails, bicycle lanes, parks with amenities other than playground equipment such as a climbing wall, create an electronic press kit to promote Ironton to other communities, downtown business-sponsored exercise stations along a fitness path and promoting the benefits of local shopping.

“The Friends of Ironton is bringing back Oktoberfest this year,” Ferguson said. “We have a lot of great ideas, but for any of them to happen and be successful it’s going to take people; volunteers to make them happen. The open mic night here at the Ro-Na, I love that idea, but the Friends of Ironton have to have help if they are going to do any more than they already do.”

Monthly car shows are not likely to happen because people who are members of car clubs, Ferguson said, tend to have dedicated places they go and shows they attend.

“I tried to get one to coincide with the Farmers Market,” Sam Heighton, market manager, said. “I got an email back and asked what weekend I would like to have in 2015. That’s how far they are booked ahead.”

Ferguson said car shows as part of a standing event is a possibility.

A “Dollar Days” event, Chocolate Walk similar to the one in Portsmouth and a Christmas Committee were late additions to the list.

A breakout session comprised of three groups — one for each category — began where all the proposed events were discussed in greater detail.