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Expert: Saving old fairgrounds Roundhouse ‘preserves who we are’

Preservation of the historic Roundhouse at the old Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Dayton is among the few tangible objectives the new owners have revealed ahead of a Thursday public workshop to collect feedback for the 38-acre site’s redevelopment process.

But while the mammoth 1874 wood structure is destined for renovation, what’s not clear is whether Roundhouse will remain the centerpiece of the site on South Main Street or be moved to another location as the University of Dayton and Premier Health redevelop the site across from Miami Valley Hospital.

THEN & NOW: Dayton’s ‘Roundhouse’ has served the community for 142 years

RELATED: Why The Roundhouse is an octagon and other facts about the cherished fairgrounds building

“As part of the purchase agreement with Montgomery County, Premier Health and UD made a commitment to include the Roundhouse as part of the overall development plans for the property or arrange for the building’s relocation and rehabilitation,” the University of Dayton and Premier Health said in a joint statement.

The two organizations have picked Columbus-based Planning NEXT to help involve the community in looking for reuse opportunities for the Roundhouse as well as ideas for developing the remainder of the site. The first public meeting is from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the fairgrounds site. About 240 people had registered to attend by Monday afternoon.

PHOTOS: The Roundhouse at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds

From a preservationist’s perspective, it’s best to keep structures where they were originally erected, said Brady Kress, president and CEO of Dayton History, who is also serving on an advisory committee for the fairgrounds site.

“Our hope is if it’s historic and significant, it’s preserved in place on its original foundation,” he said. “That’s always the goal in historic preservation.”

Kress, though, is first to admit that Carillon Historical Park, operated by Dayton History, is home to a number of historic buildings — including Dayton’s first cabin — that might otherwise have fallen to neglect or the wrecking ball had they not been moved to the park.

“With any project things come up that change,” Kress said. “Obviously Carillon is filled with those.”

MORE: Looking back at the Montgomery County Fair; origins stretch back almost 180 years

Monica Snow, vice president of Preservation Dayton, Inc., said the potential for state and federal historic tax credits should make it attractive for development partners to keep the Roundhouse in place and adapt it for a new use — so long as the credits remain available.

“The utilization of the Roundhouse should be much more cost effective and profitable if they integrate it into the development on-site as opposed to moving it,” Snow said. “Of course we don’t know what will happen with the changes in the federal tax plan.”

Republican-led proposals to overhaul the federal tax code threaten the Federal Historic Tax Credit program. The incentives jump-started renovation of the Dayton Arcade and helped financed housing projects in downtown Dayton, including the Cannery Loft Apartments, the St. Clair Lofts, the Delco Lofts, the Wheelhouse Lofts and the former Dayton Power & Light steam plant building. Local developers say the projects wouldn’t have been feasible without the tax credits.

RELATED: Popular tax break could be history: What it would mean to Dayton

The Montgomery County Agricultural Society, which sold the fairgrounds site, couldn’t afford to move the Roundhouse to the new fairgrounds in Jefferson Twp., said John Yancik the fair board president. The board did, however, call for Fairgrounds Redevelopment LTD, the joint venture between the University of Dayton and Premier Health’s Miami Valley Hospital, to preserve the building, he said.

“It’s not up to us because we didn’t have the funding for relocation,” Yancik said. “But we’re happy and hopeful that it can be incorporated into whatever new venue occurs on the former site.”

MORE: Ground broken at site for year-round Montgomery County Fairgrounds & Event Center

Snow said her group will not only advocate that the Roundhouse remain part of any new plan, but will also urge developers to look toward the other existing buildings such as the stables for design inspiration.

“It preserves who we are so we that we are not just another homogenized strip mall that you can find in any part of the United States,” Snow said. “It preserves our heritage of creativity and innovation and the legacy of who we are.”

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