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Employee parking only

Restricted parking added as condition for rent reduction

There was only one item on the agenda for Thursday’s regular meeting of Ironton City Council but thoughts of a brief meeting were short-lived.

Ordinance 14-21 would repeal ordinance No. 09-06 and all related ordinances and allow businesses located in the city center to receive a 50 percent reduction in their lease cost with the city excluding utilities.

Conditions tied to the discounted rent agreement are that lessees stay current with rent and that failure to do so would void the reduction offer. During Thursday’s meeting, however, council members expressed opposing opinions about an added condition in regard to employee parking.

Council member Craig Harvey moved to amend the ordinance to include in Section 2 Subsection D: “Lessee employees must park in designated areas.”

“We have public parking,” Bob Cleary, council member, said. “I don’t think you can legally require employees, staff or anybody to say, ‘You lease this and here is a document in writing that says you have to park in the municipal parking lot.’ I think courtesy says they should and I think most employees here…I’ve never seen any of them park at the front door.”

Harvey said the parking requirement wouldn’t be part of the lease, rather a contingency for receiving the discount.

“It’s saying to them if you want to take part in this deal you have to accept this condition,” Harvey said.

Vice Mayor Kevin Waldo weighed in with what he knows about information that has been disclosed.

“(Unger’s Shoes owner) Joe Unger, being the very difficult man that he is,” Waldo said jokingly, “has come over (to the city center) on three or four different occasions and has literally laid down his soul and asked (the restaurant employees) very nicely to please not park in front of his business and they have said get off our property and you’re not welcome back. Unger’s is one of the oldest businesses in Ironton and it couldn’t be run by a nicer person. I think it’s sickening that we don’t have any way of saying, ‘Look people, we are going to take care of Joe Unger.’ I would do that for any established business I’m not specifically trying to promote Joe Unger, but I know him and I know he would approach this with kid gloves and the response he has received is appalling.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate. We should try to promote a business like Unger’s. By the same token, if the people who run this restaurant down here were complaining about Joe or his employees parking on this side of the street and keeping people from coming into their restaurant I think we would go to Joe and ask him to have his employees park on the other side of the street. For whatever reason the people with the restaurant become very combative and I don’t think there is any reason for it.”

Cleary said parking issues are widespread and not unique to the area around the city center.

“It’s a problem two blocks down from here,” Cleary said. “It’s a problem on every block and probably at Park Avenue Apartments and it’s a problem at the courthouse; it’s everywhere. I think we ought to think about it for two weeks. I’ll probably say ‘no’ with my vote but I don’t think that will stop anything from happening.”

Council member Dave Frazer asked what penalty would be imposed if a lessee or a lessee employee parked in the wrong place, to which Harvey replied, “They just don’t receive the discount.”

Ironton Mayor Rich Blankenship said in an interview after the meeting that implementing the condition about not parking in front of a business is not asking a lot.

“I don’t think it’s asking too much,” he said. “It’s not good for business if employees park right in front and make access more difficult for potential customers. There’s a lot in the back of the city center and a municipal lot one block away on Second Street next to the Farmers Market. I know it’s been a problem in the past. There will be some leniency for loading and unloading supplies and I realize that. Basically, tenants at the city center can park wherever they want if they want to opt out of the rent reduction offer.”

On the issue of enforcing the condition Blankenship said it’s not about the legality, it’s about the rent reduction.

“If a business doesn’t want the half-price deal then its employees can continue parking wherever they want,” he said. “It should be a no-brainer. Every aspect of this is an attempt to keep businesses in the city center and everywhere downtown thriving. I support Craig’s amendment. What other landlord would even give lessees an option like this. I don’t blame business owners for complaining about the parking.”

Above all, Harvey said, it’s just commonsense.

“We’ve had a complaint and I think its common knowledge that Joe Unger is going to do whatever is the right thing,” he said. “He’s tried to do the right thing by approaching these people and I think it is incumbent on us to do the right thing by him and stand by him. I know it may be hard to enforce; (restaurant employees) have been pain after pain after pain after pain, but if they want a discount then they have to abide by the rules and this should be one of them. If we are going to reward them for bad behavior, I am honestly not OK with it.”

Council voted 4-2 to amend the ordinance with Cleary and Frazer dissenting. Council member Beth Rist was absent.

Blankenship informed council at the meeting the city will soon be able to accept utility bill payments by credit card.

“We are now ready to move forward with an option for our citizens to pay utility bills with a credit card,” he said. “This is optional. They do not have to do it, obviously.”

Council member Aaron Bollinger asked Blankenship if credit card payments could be a step toward paying bills online.

“We are in the process of redeveloping the website with that attached to it as a possibility,” Blankenship said.