The Death of Garden Station?

City eviction of Garden Station plants seeds of doubt

By Sarah Sidlow


It might be fair to say the City of Dayton and the folks involved with Garden Station won’t be exchanging holiday cards this year.

Reminder: Garden Station is an art park and community garden at Wayne Avenue and East Fourth Street. The downtown garden was once a high-crime area until volunteers spent eight years renovating it.

Now, the garden is part of a City Properties Group development plan, along with some other nearby property, which is set to someday become a space for loft-style apartments and restaurants.

Recently, the city gave the park a friendly note: effective Oct. 31, you’re evicted.

But Garden Station supporters are not into watching their eight years of volunteer power get bulldozed away that easily. Moreover, they claim, they were promised from the start that the land and its current use would be preserved as part of any new development deal. Now, they’re worried all their sweat equity will be paved into a parking lot.

So, they presented the Dayton City Commission with a petition signed by 4,000 people who support preserving Garden Station. And then, they said they had another petition—one signed by 400 people who are willing to boycott Issue 9 (a City of Dayton municipal income tax increase request) on the November ballot AND any business that disrupts preservation of the site.

Mic. Dropped.

But city officials say, “Hold up, we never said that.”

Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein said the Garden Station lease has always been a temporary thing, and now that thing has come to an end. Dickstein said the city has also repeatedly offered to help Garden Station find and relocate to a new home (and responded to 200 angry emails), but the wardens of the garden aren’t interested in starting over.

Regardless, the site is city property, and all the tears in the world can’t change the fact that the city has the power to do with it whatever it thinks will bring the most benefit to Dayton. For the city, this is an opportunity to invest in the livelihood of the downtown area. Also, just for clarification, Dickstein has said there are no plans yet for the garden space to be turned into a parking lot.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley says she isn’t upset, just disappointed that folks would threaten to boycott something she sees as a vehicle for workforce and education growth in the area.

“We hope that people will recognize that, you know, no one agrees with anyone all the time, and we hope you agree with us most of the time,” she says.

Gavel. Dropped.

To read our debate on Issue 9, please visit DaytonCityPaper.com/debate-forum-1018/ or go to ‘Back Issues’ and check the Oct. 18 issue.

Reach Dayton City Paper forum moderator Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com


Before its time

By Tim Walker

Should Dayton residents accept the death of Garden Station? No, no, no… hell no, as a matter of fact.

Death and taxes, as the tired old saying goes, may be two things that are unavoidable in this jaded world of ours. All human beings live, we all breathe, and eventually, we all die. But dreams are different. Dreams need not die—they can survive beyond the life of an individual, they can be passed along and worked on, shared, nurtured, and kept alive by groups of people working toward a common goal. They can be protected against those who would rather see them die.

Garden Station began as a dream, a vision that local citizens had to create an art park and community garden in downtown Dayton, to transform a vacant lot and de facto homeless camp into a community garden and art park. Located at the corner of Fourth Street and Wayne Avenue, Garden Station was funded through donations and created entirely by volunteers, who logged countless hours of effort in cleaning up the space and transforming it into a beautiful, fun art space for all of our city’s residents to enjoy.

I spent nine years living in the Oregon District, at 607 East Fifth St., right at the corner of Fifth Street and Wayne Avenue. I could see the Garden Station site from my apartment’s Wayne Avenue window. Over the years, I was shocked at the transformation that took place on the once-vacant lot, as teams of hard-working volunteers created a tiny corner of art, beauty, and light amidst an overgrown industrial landscape that had previously been filled with nothing but trash and grime.

The art park’s own website details its history—before the city of Dayton purchased it, the property at Fourth and Wayne was previously owned by a railroad and used as a storage yard and dumping ground. By the time the Garden Station project was started, the lot had been vacant for over 50 years. In 2008, the Dayton Circus Creative Collective, a group of local artists, made an agreement with the city to turn the space into a community garden and art park. Volunteers Lisa Helm and Lily Whitehead were project co-leaders and focused on cleaning the space up by cutting down weeds, picking up trash, and getting water service installed during the first year. Lily then started her own studio, so Lisa became the sole project manager with Ed Jackson joining as the primary volunteer caretaker of the property. In 2009, a straw bale shed and electric service were added, then in 2010 a pop-bottle greenhouse was built and construction began on a new arch entryway.

The city still owned the property, but Garden Station signed a lease with the city in 2008, a lease that was renewed in 2010. The extension lasted until December 2015. But in March of this year, Dayton commissioners approved transferring the Garden Station property and the vacant industrial building across the street at 210 Wayne Ave. to Louisville-based City Properties Group. City Properties Group plans on converting the Wayne Avenue property into 40 loft-style apartments with restaurant and retail space on the ground floor.

The people who manage Garden Station would like to preserve their art park, and they have reached out to the developers of the property. But it appears that another old saying—you can’t fight city hall—may be manifesting itself, as their desire to have their voices heard seems to have fallen on deaf ears. “The city understands the uniqueness and community efforts that went into creating and maintaining the space and would like to see them continue in a new permanent location,” Shelley Dickstein, Dayton’s city manager, was quoted as saying. “We have offered to partner with Garden Station to help them relocate.”

But to squash the dreams and vision of a group of concerned residents—to take the countless hours of sweat and toil that went into creating Garden Station and just throw it away—seems to me like the wrong course of action. This former eyesore has been transformed into a beautiful garden, and it was done without city funds, it was done with no involvement from any government agency, it was done, quite simply, through the tireless efforts and sweat equity of a group of people who wanted to make their downtown area a better place for everyone.

How does one judge progress? If a city is to exist as a living, breathing entity, healthy within its borders, as the denizens of that city work to improve and beautify it, then how is it a proper course of action to take those selfsame efforts and destroy them in the name of making a few dollars?

The residents of this city should not allow Garden Station to die. The people who created it, the people who enjoy it, and any person who cares for the soul of this city should join together and focus their efforts to preserve this loving, giving garden—once an eyesore, now a peaceful space for all to enjoy, grow, and be creative.

Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz and black t-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com.


Giving back

By Ben Tomkins

Unfortunately, what is happening to Garden Station is neither a recent development nor a surprise. In fact, looking at the planning and growth initiatives going back to 2007—just prior to when Garden Station was founded—it appears to have had a target on its back.

The gentrification of the Oregon Historic District has been going on for years, and upon my most recent visit, I can say it is no longer what it was when I was a kid. In fact, large parcels of downtown Dayton have evolved into places where someone might actually want to spend some time, and this hasn’t been a charming result of unrelated initiatives. Documents such as the Oregon District Strategic Plan (2007) have outlined long-range philosophies and visions for what the city has become and its continuing evolution.

The Oregon District Strategic Plan outlines three broad categories of development for the Oregon District. The first theme for the neighborhood is that of a vibrant arts and entertainment district. As near as I can tell, this translates to “a trendy area for people to drink craft beer, listen to music, and generally hang out, all the while exchanging handfuls of cash.” I’ll leave it up to the Dayton City Paper readership to determine if that is what the Oregon District is becoming.  The second theme is that it should be walkable and easily accessible. Finally, it should be a “premier urban neighborhood.” While this may seem nebulous, I believe that the fact that the words “sophisticated,’ “vibrant,” and “ambiance” are mentioned eight times in the 40 or so words in the description is… informative.

Again, I’ll have to leave it up to all of you to decide if that’s what the Oregon Historic District looks like today, but the words that are distinctly missing are “green,” “garden,” and “community.”

Consider that very carefully: this plan was never, ever about developing a community. It was about creating a funnel into a light commercial and entertainment district with apartments and lofts. Sorry. I hate to have to say it, but nothing in the plan indicates that Garden Station was going to fit into that model. Does it have art? Absolutely. Is it an open and inviting space? It seems to me that it is. However, from listening to the people who came to the Dayton City Council meeting on Oct. 19 to speak out against the redevelopment plans, Garden Station is a community fixture, not a cultural fixture.

I hate having to say that because Garden Station is clearly a labor of love that means a lot to those members of the community who dug their fingernails into it. It looks like an amazing project and life investment. However, with only a few thousand signatures on a petition, there is nothing to indicate that the larger Dayton community views it as a cultural institution. Worse, according to the Oregon District Strategic Plan, it has been in the shadow of a bulldozer for its entire lifespan.

In the document, that parcel of land is part of a larger piece that is exactly under the footprint of the current developer’s plans. Garden Station itself is one of just a handful of areas listed on the map as “vacant,” and the other chunk is slated as “industrial.” Moreover, one of the biggest challenges facing the redevelopment of the district is listed as “parking.” In fact, parking is named as one of the single greatest challenges facing revitalization and is considered critical to making the Oregon Historic District “connected” to the rest of Dayton. Essentially, the land on which Garden Station sits was especially identified, before it was even created, as destined to have a building erected on or asphalt poured over it.

Of course, none of this does any good to the poor souls who have invested their blood, sweat, and tears in its creation. I will say that it is a testament to the character of the citizens of Dayton that it became what it did, and I think it’s great the city has offered to relocate as much of what is there as possible. The city could just plow it under, and it looks like they don’t want it to simply vanish. Really, it’s just a bad situation, and I doubt when Garden Station was given the green light anyone ever dreamed it would turn into what it did. If what the city has planned for Oregon with the help of millions of dollars and professionals is impressive, then what the caretakers of Garden Station achieved with nothing is absolutely brilliant.

As near as I can tell, that’s about all she wrote. The development will go ahead as planned, and Garden Station, one way or another, will not be there in the near future. Despite the protests and speeches given at various meetings, the tenor in the city council meeting was one of waiting out the public storm, and the current petition to boycott any businesses that open up on the Garden Station land has less than 700 signatures as of today.

If the residents of Dayton believe, as I do, that this is a great loss to a group of their fellow citizens who gave freely of themselves to make a dingy part of Dayton a more beautiful and spiritually satisfying place to live or for anyone or who chose to visit Garden Station, I would call on you all to lend your hands and backs to the work of its relocation. The people in your community gave you something, and although it can’t be preserved where it is, those of you who will enjoy the fruits of the gentrification of the Oregon Historic District should stand up and give something back.

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. For more of his work, visit HillOfAthens.com. Reach Ben Tomkins at BenTomkins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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