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Ironton to map out new plan, downtown design

Ironton city officials want to revitalize the dwindling city, so they’re working to pull together a fresh comprehensive plan and downtown design.

That will hopefully help grow the quiet community.

“We don’t have a large downtown area. It’s slowing, diminishing, but we don’t want that to happen. We don’t want to see businesses leave. We don’t have many businesses left anymore,” said Ironton Mayor Dean French.

French, along with other city officials, wants to attract new businesses, tourists and retain and gain residents. In order to work toward that lofty goal, they’re penning a new comprehensive plan and downtown design.

Officials want to map out ideas now, as plans from the state near for an update to Highway 210, French said. That project will hopefully offer grants and incentives to business owners along the main stretch through Ironton to revamp their store fronts, as well as the potential for the city to gain more street lights, French said.

The comprehensive plan will set the vision for the whole town of Ironton, while the specific design details will be specifically for the downtown area.

The idea sparked at the city council level about a year ago to redo the city’s comprehensive plan, which hasn’t been touched in about two decades. That will open the city up for new grants, which require a more up-to-date plan.

Officials would also like to give a facelift to a few buildings downtown.

A couple are in “rough shape,” the mayor said, and should be torn down, replaced or fixed up.

There’s no set type of business that city leaders want to pull in, though French would like to see a hardware store or other retail shops.

It will be tough to compete with the retail stores in Baxter, French said. Still, he’s hopeful the comprehensive plan and design will help pave the way for future businesses.

“We want (Ironton) to be more inviting,” French said. “We need to clean it up again.”

The town has been slowly shrinking since mining operations left, he added.

Short Elliot Hendrickson engineering firm from Brainerd was selected to work with a yet-to-be-formed committee of residents and city officials to detail the plans.

Once that plan is agreed upon, it needs to go before the city council for final approval.

The comprehensive plan will include a vision for what direction the city wants to take 10-15 years down the road in areas such as green space, commercial areas, industrial land and residential. It sets goals for businesses and includes information on the town, such as average age and income of residents.

There will be many opinions brought forward, French said. Some say there needs to be a niche or a theme that Ironton is known for to pull people in. Others say mining needs to be brought back.

There will be a few added barriers, French says, because the state will have a lot of say in any plans since the highway goes right through downtown. That means diagonal parking or boulevards can not be put in, he said.

The comprehensive plan will take about six months. This is just one step in a long process.

French doesn’t expect a big boom of traffic and business in the near future.

“It would be nice, but I don’t think that will happen,” he said.

Ultimately, he just wants more businesses to come into the small town.

“We have to grow to stay alive,” he said. “That’s what I want to see. It doesn’t have to be monstrous. If we add just one business a year for the next five years, it’s better than losing them.”

JESSICA LARSEN, staff writer, may be reached at or 855-5859. Follow me on Twitter at