The planned development of student housing at the Dayton Daily News’ Ludlow Street site matches a resource — Dayton’s large stock of historic, vacant buildings — with a clear need for more downtown housing.
But city officials say if that model was simple to execute, these redevelopments would be everywhere.
“The ‘yes we can’ side is that there is a need, and there is demand,” said Aaron Sorrell, Dayton’s director of planning and community development. He pointed to downtown residential occupancy rates well over 90 percent in the city.
“The challenge that we have — and it’s not a Dayton challenge, it’s a Midwest challenge — is that the gross rents you can receive often don’t cover the cost to renovate (an older building),” Sorrell said. “Developers don’t do it for free. And that’s where the incentive programs and tax credits come in.”
United Housing and Community Services Corporation of California and Student Suites are partnering to build a $18 million, 350-bed facility just a few blocks from Sinclair Community College at the site of the former Dayton Daily News building.
The project will feature renovation, mixed with demolition and new construction. The city and Cox Media Group are each projected to chip in $1 million to support the bond issuance and the developer’s investment.
Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership, said the charm and character of historic buildings is part of what draws some people to live downtown. But she cautioned that not every building has a feasible second use.
“Transitioning older buildings to other uses, particularly housing, sounds simple, but it’s really, really hard,” Gudorf said. “In many cases, it’s a significantly higher cost to transition buildings to different uses than to start with a greenfield or a brownfield and build new.”
There were multiple unsuccessful attempts to reuse the Schwind building on Ludlow, which will be demolished as part of the student housing project. The Centre City Building at Fourth and Main is on its second reuse plan after a failed attempt in 2006, and plans for an East Third Street mixed-use development at the Lotz Building stalled in 2009.
On the other side are downtown reuse success stories like The Cannery and The Landing, which have passed their 10th and 20th anniversaries respectively, and have few vacancies.
Bill Hibner, director of construction services for Greater Dayton Construction Group, hopes his current project, the Sixth Street Lofts, ends up on that list of successes. Hibner is turning the former Excelsior Laundry building just west of Jay’s Seafood restaurant into a 17-condominium building that he hopes will be ready in June. Several units have already been reserved, but some remain.
“The city has been very cooperative, but whenever you convert an older commercial structure into a residential building, you’re changing the use, and trying to bring it up to current codes, and it’s a bit of a challenge,” Hibner said. “But we’re very close.”