City officials are beginning to discuss results of the new Greater West Dayton Development Study. But two Plan Board members said this week the study doesn’t go far enough — suggesting instead that the city empty out entire neighborhoods and level them to rebuild.
“Developers don’t want to come in and say, ‘I’ll put a house here and here, and leave these two in place.’ They want a clean tract,” Dayton Plan Board Chairman Greg Scott said. “It’s terrible to displace people, but nobody lives forever, and no house is going to last forever. Is this group, this project, willing to commit to saying, we’ve identified 100 acres here, 200 acres there, that we’re going to wipe out everything that’s in it and start from scratch?”
Plan Board member David Bohardt said the city’s current neighborhood model is “not sustainable,” citing thousands of abandoned properties. He said the “right-sizing” problem exists citywide, not just on the west side, and added that the city should identify the most blighted areas, wherever they are, and take those communities “offline.”
Veronica Morris, a member of the city’s economic development staff, said Dayton leaders have talked about trying to pull together 100 or 200 acres of contiguous property.
“The question becomes, will the community allow us go forward with that?” she said.
The preliminary summary of the Greater West Dayton Development Study does not make those suggestions. The study, executed by Indianapolis consultant RW Armstrong, highlights several potential actions – creating a detailed inventory of all real estate to set priorities, adding planted medians to streets, making neighborhoods more walkable, using tax increment financing or special improvement districts to pay for upgrades, and developing a West Dayton business incubator.
Plan Board member Richard Wright expressed concern that the Innerwest area of Dayton doesn’t have the huge anchors like hospitals and universities that have spurred redevelopment in other sections of the city.
The study tries to identify potential anchors, naming the Aviation Heritage National Park, the Greater Dayton Recreation Center, schools and parks, the VA medical center and employers such as Sugarcreek Packing and Assembly Test Worldwide. Morris said the goal is the build on those assets “to help rebuild the neighborhoods from the inside out.”
Mary Ellington, chair of the Innerwest Priority Board, said she’s not sure how successful huge-scale redevelopment would be, and she’s focusing on smaller efforts. She said restoring the Gem City Ice Cream building on West Third Street for use by the British Transportation Museum would be “a great thing” for the historic West Third Street corridor.
“The long and the short of it is what will the public will support?” Ellington said. “It’s kind of hard to say because I think most neighborhoods have died out as far as retail, but the one thing we do have going in Wright-Dunbar is tourism.
“I’ve seen the deterioration of the west side and it’s almost like it’s a struggle to get anything on this side of the river,” Ellington continued. “I hate to sound pessimistic, but I think I’m more of a realistic person. … A whole lot hinges on the economy.”
Scott kept his focus on making wholesale changes to blighted areas, saying city leaders must look beyond just current residents and aim to reshape neighborhoods for the future.
“If it’s good for the entire city, while it may be sad to an individual resident, or business owner, or even a neighborhood, we need to make those tough choices,” he said.