EDITORIAL: Charleston’s event could serve as model

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 9, 2022

Last week, the city of Charleston, West Virginia took a chance.

First term Mayor Amy Goodwin made good on her promise to bring back the Charleston Sternwheel Regatta, which had been defunct since 2002.

In its heyday, the Regatta was the premiere event for the city, and one of the biggest outdoor festivals east of the Mississippi, stretching to nearly two weeks and boasting national acts such as the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, Willie Nelson and others.

Email newsletter signup

But, following rowdy crowds and opposition in the community banning alcohol sales, the funding for the event dried up in the 1990s and it eventually dwindled to a shell of it former self before being ended altogether by Goodwin’s predecessor, Danny Jones.

Earlier this year, Goodwin announced that the Regatta was back and some observers were skeptical if it would be a draw in its second incarnation.

But as the massive crowds last week showed, there was a hunger for such an event and it was packed.

Through the day, the festival was family friendly and featured children’s activities and amusement rides. At night, alcohol was permitted, though monitored heavily and no major incidents were reported.

The city is now basking in the success of this year, drawing a crowd that looked like the numbers from the 1980s.

Which brings us to Ironton.

The city, for many years, used to have its own regatta, but it has been gone for decades.

Looking toward what Charleston pulled off, it might be time for Ironton, as well as Lawrence County, to think about bringing it back as well, or establishing something similar.

We often hear complaints from locals about a lack of things for families to do (though not renewing a recreation levy did not help that situation), and it is likely that, like Charleston, there is a crowd waiting for such an opportunity.

In recent years, we’ve seen several small, independent events launch to varying degrees of success on the riverfront, but a more official, large scale event at the city or county level could have opportunities unique to it.

And this would not come at a detriment to the independent events, who could promote themselves and gain publicity at a larger festival if it were a tourist destination.

The city and county have a great resource in the Ironton riverfront and should capitalize on it for as many opportunities as possible.

Such an event would require major planning and would need investment, but, looking to Charleston as an example, it might be worth having some conversations about.