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Firm envisions fairgrounds with unique neighborhood identity

The firm tasked with fostering a redevelopment plan for the Montgomery County Fairgrounds envisions the property becoming a neighborhood where people can live, work and do a little shopping.

The University of Dayton and Premier Health on Wednesday announced that Planning NEXT, a Columbus based firm, would lead the effort in creating a redevelopment plan for the fairgrounds. The firm will host a Nov. 2 workshop to seek pubic input on what the fairgrounds should become, officials said.

Though both UD and Premier officials say no plans have been made for the 38-acre property, the principal of Planning NEXT said he envisions the fairgrounds having multiple uses.

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“This will likely be a place where people can work and live and maybe the retail component is something that supports the daily living activities as opposed to being a regional shopping destination,” said Jamie Greene, principal of Planning NEXT.

But, the property will not become something like The Greene shopping center, he said. Instead, Greene said he envisions the fairgrounds becoming a more permanent neighborhood with a fixed identity.

“We think that one of the dimensions of having a successful place is having some emotional connection to it,” Greene said. “So, to the extent that it has an identity, you know, that’s important. You might have the Oregon District here, we have the German Village, Italian Village, the Short North in Columbus.”

Greene compared the fairgrounds to Beulah Park in Grove City near Columbus. Planning NEXT helped develop a conceptual plan for the 213-acre former racetrack in Grove City which would include a residential area, a park and a recreational facility while connecting the area better to the rest of the town.

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Though some could eventually call the former fairgrounds home, Greene said any residential spaces would need to be done differently than most. Any apartments or condos that would be built on the property would need to be a reflection of the area, he said.

“This should become a place, not a collection of projects,” Greene said. “A lot times we see an apartment project but it doesn’t really integrate into the fabric of anything. So, this really needs to be a place in and of itself. It can have a wide range and mix of uses including residential but not project on project on project.”

Planning NEXT was chosen from several planning teams based on its track record of public engagement, innovative urban design, economic strategy and analysis, and “ability to craft a space that supports and complements culturally rich communities,” according to an announcement Wednesday.

UD and Premier have been planning to redevelop the fairgrounds since announcing they would jointly buy the South Main Street site in December.

UD and Premier finalized the deal to buy the fairgrounds in April for a sale price of $15 million, of which UD and Premier will each pay $5.25 million. The fairgrounds is moving to Judge Arthur O. Fisher Park in Jefferson Twp., at a 130-acre site near Dayton Liberty and Infirmary roads.

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Planning NEXT will share details of the five-month planning process during the November workshop. A second workshop is planned for early 2018, with a goal to complete the master plan by spring.

Those interested will be able to share thoughts about the property’s future online at fairgroundstofuture.org.

“That really will start our engagement of all the potential stakeholders for the campus,” said Craig Self, system chief strategy officer at Premier Health. “I think the neat thing about Premier and UD as this property transitions from a public asset to a private asset, is both of our institutions have a long term investment mindset. We’re not a developer that wants to flip the property tomorrow afternoon, put anything we can on the property and move on.”

Whatever the fairgrounds becomes is something that will need to endure the test of time as both UD and Premier have, Greene said. UD president Eric Spina agreed with Greene’s sentiment in a prepared statement, saying that the fairgrounds needs to have “a strong, authentic sense of place” while also serving “broad community interests.”

The fairgrounds purchase is the latest in a recent line of land acquisitions by UD.

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Under former president Dan Curran, UD purchased NCR Corporation’s former world headquarters and Old River Park for $18 million in 2009. The property is now home to UD’s research institute.

UD’s leaders have said they see redeveloping surrounding property in need as part of their responsibility to Dayton, something provost Paul Benson echoed after Wednesday’s announcement.

“We’re really trying to do our best to develop the campus that we have, not only for our students, faculty and staff and partners but for the benefit of the greater region,” Benson said. “When it became clear that previous development efforts wouldn’t come together, it seemed like part of our responsibility as the University of Dayton to join with another valued partner.”

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