Officials celebrate continued development in Ironton

Photo from Herald-Dispatch
Photo from Herald-Dispatch

IRONTON – Months after the Holiday Inn Express and the Frisch’s Big Boy restaurant opened, local officials marked the grand opening of the Gateway Centre, a project that has provided 70 jobs to Ironton and could provide another 70 to 90 jobs during its second phase.

The $10 million project to bring the hotel and restaurant to South 9th Street has provided 70 full-time equivalent jobs, said Bill Dingus, executive director of the Lawrence Economic Development Corporation.

“We’re on the edge of having two more” businesses locating in the Gateway Centre area, which includes the former Ohio National Guard Armory and property along the north side of South 9th Street, Dingus said. “We expect to have 150 jobs here.”

The hotel and restaurant opened last year, but Tuesday was the first time all the principals could get together for a ribbon-cutting for the three-story, 79-room hotel and the adjacent restaurant. More than 100 people attended.

“We’re pleased with the results so far,” said Mike Holtz, developer for the hotel project. His company has built about 35 motels in Ohio and 200 across the country, he said.

“The community was critical to our success,” he said. “We’re proud to be part of Ironton and Lawrence County.”

Holtz worked on the project with local officials for five years before it moved forward.

“We’ve been open six months,” Holtz said. “We’ve been sold out several times.”

Four local entities worked to make the project happen, Dingus said. They were the Ironton Port Authority, the Lawrence County Port Authority, the Ironton-Lawrence County Area Community Action Organization and the Lawrence Economic Development Corporation.

“The economy was tanking,” Dingus said. “Things weren’t moving forward, but Ironton needed a hotel.”

Developers went into debt, borrowing $1 million, to move the project forward, he said.

Jim Kratzenberg, a local developer, wanted to bring a Frisch’s back to Ironton, but the company wanted to see a hotel first, he said.

Ralph Kline, assistant executive director of the community action organization, helped secure a $500,000 community development block grant and a $150,000 Appalachian Regional Commission grant to assist with the project.

“We have to believe in Ironton,” Mayor Rich Blankenship said.

Ironton City Council agreed to close part of a street and an alley and helped put in the necessary infrastructure.

“It all came together,” Blankenship said. “We had to convince Holiday Inn and Frisch’s to believe in Ironton.”

The project includes a fountain and a kiosk including trails to the Wayne National Forest, Kline said.

From The Herald-Dispatch  |  June 3, 2015