SPECIAL REPORT: Hospital closing latest blow to city’s west side

Community leader: ‘That’s just a devastating feeling.’

The recent onslaught of bad economic news has residents in the west side of Dayton feeling picked on.

First the grocery store ALDI announced in December it is closing its location on West Third Street, making it harder for residents in what is already a food desert to get affordable, fresh food.

LATEST NEWS: Pastors lead protest against Good Sam closing

Weeks later, Dayton Public Schools announced declining enrollment could force them to shutter schools. No decision has been made yet, but the eight schools listed as most under-enrolled, all are in west Dayton.

This month came perhaps the biggest gut-punch of all: the announcement that Premier Health will close Good Samaritan Hospital this year, impacting medical care for west Dayton residents and sucking 1,600 jobs out of northwest Dayton.

“Whether this is right or wrong, what it feels like is they’re taking our health care, they’re taking our jobs, they’re taking our schools, and that’s just a devastating feeling when all those assets start to leave at once,” said Darryl Fairchild, a community leader in the Dayton View Triangle neighborhood just south of Good Sam.

RELATED: Dennis Kucinich says Dayton should sue to stop Good Sam closing

Fairchild was at a small gathering Tuesday evening of area residents at Omega Baptist Church who came to vent frustration and discuss next steps over the hospital closure.

Sarni Bensman, who lives in the Mount Vernon neighborhood, said residents need to make their voices heard.

“I think the people, the community of the west side, these people need to wake up, smell the coffee. Start protesting, start getting in all the meetings,” Bensman said. “The city council meetings, go to the school board meetings and say, ‘No, you’re not doing this to our side of town.’” 

Population, value declines

West Dayton’s problems have been decades in the making. The closure of manufacturing plants dealt devastating blows. Many people with money moved to the suburbs, leaving a smaller, poorer population.

The declining population accelerated the problem. ALDI blamed its decision to close on diminished traffic. Dayton Public Schools says eight schools in west Dayton have half the students they were built for. Wogaman Middle School was designed for 780 kids, but only has just 218.

RELATED: Not clear what will replace Good Samaritan Hospital

Property values in some northwest neighborhoods have decreased. The most recent three-year review by the Montgomery County Auditor’s Office nudged median values down from $44,350 to $40,390 in the College Hill neighborhood, with Santa Clara median values dropping to as low as $30,970.

“There’s this perception there’s this huge, massive, ongoing disinvestment in west Dayton,” said Dayton City Commissioner Chris Shaw. “It gives you a sense of the frustration and the fear that is going through the community.”

One of those fears, expressed by many at the Omega Baptist Church meeting, is that there is an intentional abandonment of west Dayton.

“We live in brick houses, well-maintained brick houses. We are well-educated. We are not thugs,” said Katharine Schaefer.

“These are educated people who purchased a home to raise a family and now we feel like we’re being pushed out on all sides.”

RELATED: Most kept in dark about Good Sam closing

Setback to recent success 

What makes the hospital’s closure particularly painful, Shaw and others said, is it guts an area that appeared to be on the mend. Tens of millions of dollars have been investment near the hospital, largely through the city- and hospital-backed Phoenix Project.

A Phoenix Project policing initiative led to an 11 percent drop in crime in the area from 2008 to 2017, including a 43 percent drop in drug crimes, according to the city.

Dayton View Triangle saw median values edge up slightly, from $52,305 to $52,680.

“To be real candid that area is really one of the only areas that had recent development,” said Branford Brown, executive director of the Miami Valley Urban League, of the area around the hospital.

“That part of the community was being built up, so snatching that out of the community is going to have a devastating impact on economic development in this area.”

Brown said it’s key that the community be involved in what replaces the hospital.

“If it’s going to be another Family Dollar store I’m not excited,” he said. “It seems all we have left now are barber shops, beauty shops and churches and everybody else is abandoning the community.”

Premier Health has pledged to provide $10 million toward the redevelopment effort and to make the property “shovel-ready” for a future developer. The hospital network is also working with CityWide Development, the city’s development arm, and Planning NEXT of Columbus on a repurposing plan. Planning NEXT is the same design firm that rolled out a proposal for the fairgrounds property last week.

But some residents fear a ripple effect from the hospital closing.

“How many other businesses are going to close right here next to it, that were being supported by Good Samaritan Hospital?” Dayton View Triangle resident Steve Burden said.

RELATED: Mayor says city not told the truth about Good Sam closing

‘It’s going to be our turn’

Not everyone is pessimistic about the future.

Jule Rastikis, president of the community group Salem Avenue Peace Corridor, said the means are there for a revival. He noted that a recent study found people living in a three-mile radius from the corner of Salem Avenue and Grand Avenue spend $300 million a year outside of their community.

“We know the potential for viability on Salem is huge,” Rastikis said. “”The biggest problem we have is a perception problem.”

Larry Ramey, president of the Salem Avenue Business Association, admitted there is an image problem but said changes in the past couple of years have made a positive impact. For example:

  • The Dayton Metropolitan Library put its largest non-downtown branch a block from Good Sam.
  • The Gem City Market — with financial support from Premier Health — is looking to build a co-op grocery on lower Salem.
  • Kettering Health Network recently invested in Grandview Medical Center.
  • P3 Secure, parent company of 4EverReady Home Care and Transportation, is moving to a larger facility in the Salem corridor after growing to more than 100 employees in three years.
  • Production Design Services Inc. of West Carrollton, an equipment manufacturer, is moving 110 jobs to Dayton’s Five Points neighborhood.

Rastikis sees a day when west Dayton gets the building investment downtown is currently seeing.

“It’s going to be Salem Avenue’s turn soon,” he said. “It’s going to be our turn.”

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