Why risk Dayton?
One of the greatest misconceptions in the region is that downtown Dayton is not a safe place to visit. There are still some people in the suburbs who believe they will get mugged or shot if they go downtown. Yet, downtown Dayton is probably the safest of the 65 neighborhoods that make up the city.
I remember some 12 or 13 years ago there was going to be an effort made to provide housing options downtown. Developers had acquired property to develop into lofts or apartments. It was strange, but in 2002 that all came to a halt and it seemed over the next several years we existed in a period of stagnation. Nothing significant was happening and the city was reacting all the time to events as they arose, not being proactive to steer things in a certain direction or creating a positive effect so that it would lead to more positive effects. I believe that stagnation was the end result of one-party control of the local government. When you have a monopoly on ideas and none are new, that is what ultimately happens.
It seems for the past three years that has all changed. Enough positive things have happened that the downtown dynamic is a positive force. What has happened to make that difference? After being elected in 2009, I stated many times Dayton was a puzzle. All the pieces were here – the people, the buildings and the ideas. All we had to do was start to put the pieces together. It didn’t have to be perfect, it just had to start happening. Since then, we have taken our focus as a society off of the “one big thing” approach and directed our attention to all of the little things that were never done to connect the dots. The Downtown Dayton Partnership focused more on marketing and promoting downtown as a destination for people instead of a place for economic development. First Friday events grew in scope and popularity. Urban Nights has also grown and regularly attract many outsiders. They promoted lunchtime events at Courthouse Square and Riverscape. The DDP also coordinated events at the Schuster Center and the Victoria Theatre with restaurants to increase opportunities for both entities. Bloggers and social media gurus who loved Dayton began to promote the positive aspects of downtown as being part of the whole Dayton experience. A few developers took a leap of faith and some calculated risk to increase downtown housing, which sold out faster than anyone imagined. People who believed in themselves began their own small businesses and started coffee shops, pop-up shops and small retail establishments. Dayton became internationally recognized as an immigrant-friendly city. This placed us on the radar screen for national media attention. Reporters now look at Dayton as a leader for innovation and problem solving. That attracted the attention of larger businesses. After all, business leaders want to be at the center where things are happening. We are on more top 10 lists than bottom 10 lists these days.
Other things happened to change the downtown dynamic, too. The local newspaper focused on a broader area for their reporting. Less negative focus on Dayton showed bad things were happening everywhere and not just in the region’s core. Other media outlets like the Dayton City Paper took the lead and promoted the positive aspects of the area because those stories were easier to find and write about. After all, there is more positive than negative happening here at any given time.
Where is this all going? I could tell you many stories of discussions I have had with people with dreams to make a difference. I encourage them to follow those dreams. Some do and have already succeeded. Some get caught up in everyday struggles and their dreams are placed on hold. There are a lot of dreams here in Dayton that can come true, but not enough facilitators for those dreams. We need problem solvers and facilitators in elected office, not politicians who focus on their own self-promotion. These people are the ones elected to direct policy to facilitate the will of all of the people, not just a handful. It is because of initiatives now, in about two years there will be some 1,000 more residents living downtown. It is because of initiatives now, there will be more businesses in the greater downtown area. It is because of initiatives now, the Dayton Renaissance is happening. It is because of initiatives now and not two, three or four years from now.
So now is the time to stand up and make a difference. What you do today will drive the momentum for the next four years. Don’t wait for your politicians to develop ideas of their own. It will not happen. They are not risk takers.
If you believe in Dayton and you have a dream to create something to improve the downtown experience, then you have to be the risk taker. To all the dreamers out there: If your passion is legal, moral, ethical and does not cost the tax payer money, sometimes it is easier to just do it and ask for forgiveness. If the first four standards are met, it is unlikely you will ever have to ask for the last.
Make your dreams happen. Dayton will be better for it!
Reach Dayton Mayor Gary D. Leitzell at (937) 333-3653 or GaryLeitzell@DaytonCityPaper.com.