Since Dayton was founded on April 1, 1796, there has always been a plan. Some plans failed because of lack of foresight and a few others, while boons for a short time, were quickly supplanted by some other burgeoning method, like the railroads replacing the canals. In recent memory, plans have been drawn up by an interested party or a local politician, taking on the hue of a pet project, and when that person or persons were replaced, the plan was quickly forgotten and replaced by a new plan.
The latest plan to come into fruition is the Greater Downtown Dayton Plan, a joint effort between the public and private sectors unveiled Tuesday, May 18 at the Dayton Racquet Club. It is a promising endeavor containing several aspects ensuring a level of sustainability and potential for success previous plans failed to incorporate.
The impetus for the plan was a 2008 Brookings Institute Report titled Restoring Prosperity: How Ohio Can Revitalize Core Communities. Within the study was the conclusion that it was imperative for Ohio to rebuild its core cities immediately into thriving centers of commerce. To those ends, pubic meetings were held throughout 2009 to garner suggestions and support.
“In past histories in many towns, there’s a group of four or five people who get together in the proverbial smoke filled room and say, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’ We have gone to great lengths not to do that,” said Dr. Michael Ervin, co-chair of the Greater Downtown Dayton Plan’s Community Council. “What we’ve done is held lots of public meetings … so that a lot of people could give input. We have literally gotten thousands and thousands of inputs electronically. When we started this plan, we said, ‘There are a number of principles we want to build this plan on. Now, let’s all agree on the principles to start with so that we’re not wasting time.’”
Some aspects of the plan are already in progress or near completion such as Main Street’s facelift (although this was in the works long before the plan was established, it dovetails seamlessly with other facets of the plan), work on several key infrastructure projects and establishing bike lanes and other bicycle-friendly amenities for which Dayton recently received a bronze rating by the League of American Bicyclists. These projects were addressed by Tim Riordan, Dayton city manager and co-chair of the Greater Downtown Dayton Plan’s Community Council.
“As we were discussing (the plan) I said, ‘Don’t wait for a plan to come out. Just do it. Nobody’s holding you back, so go after it.’ There was some federal money around and a couple of things that we could do, but nothing had to wait for the plan.”
In the late 1700s, Daniel Cooper arrived in Dayton as a surveyor and had the foresight to make the main roadways be “4 poles wide,” a benefit we still enjoy today. This kind of foresight not only makes things easier for future generations of Daytonians, but also acts as a competitive edge even when such actions do not come immediately into play. Such is the case with broadband technology.
“When the city engineers built the traffic signal system and connected it with computers, they had the foresight to put a whole bunch of fiber optic cable in there.” Riordan explained. “We’ve been talking about it and we’re working on putting together a business plan. It goes wherever the traffic signal system is, which there’s an awful lot of here in the greater Downtown area, so what we’re looking at doing is putting that business plan together and doing a couple of pilot projects.”
This type of technological advantage plays well into the plan becoming a potentially integral part in Tech Town and the newly envisioned Aerospace Hub, which encompasses the area of Tech Town, Sinclair Community College and the University of Dayton Research Institute. Riordan also detailed what the Aerospace Hub was and how it would benefit the Dayton area.
“That is a designation that the State gave us,” he said. “Coincidentally, there’s another term that the feds have and it’s called a ‘hub zone.’ Hub zones are older areas that have high unemployment, so it’s a way for the federal government to motivate people to be in those kinds of areas. If your business is located in a hub zone (and the Aerospace Hub and the greater downtown area is in that hub zone) and 35 percent of your employees are there, it trumps almost everything in terms of getting federal contracts. There’s been a court case recently in the last three or four months that made it clear how powerful these hub zones are, so that’s one of the things that we, as a city, are going to be pushing.”
In particular, there are several factors that make the Greater Downtown Dayton Plan viable. Primarily, the interaction of various groups spearheading various projects inevitably leads towards the same goals. Second, these groups are drawn from a diverse stratum: the city government, the business sector, and private citizens, which creates a checks and balance system that gives the plan a sense of perpetuity.
“There are a lot of people out there doing a lot of good things,” Ervin stated. “It’s a combination of putting all the different governmental agencies and the private sector together to make a difference here because everybody is bringing something to the table. We’re all talking to each other. It’s decompartmentalizing an issue and saying, ‘This is a community issue, not a City of Dayton issue. It’s not a County issue. It’s not an RTA issue. It’s not a private sector issue. It’s not CityWide’s issue.’ We all have to work together to solve this so, when I have a staff meeting, there’s people from the City, the Downtown Dayton Partnership, CityWide development … there may be somebody from MetroParks or the Conservancy District … it’s whoever we need to come together.”
Lastly, there is no linchpin within the plan to suggest that if it fails, the whole plan falls apart. This new plan has a built in malleability. While each project is a symbiotic part of all the other projects, it is not dependent on the other projects successes or failures. This is not, however, stating that every aspect of the plan will be realized. There are too many variables to make such a promise.
“Especially in these times, funding is going to be a challenge,” said Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership and one of the lead members of the plan’s Arts, Entertainment, Culture and History Team. “Nobody is promising that all of these things will happen overnight, but each implementation team will be asked to ask themselves, ‘What are those things that we can get done in the short term?’ and ‘What can be funded in the short term and how can we pool resources?’ Then there will be benchmarks set up and then there’s the Community Council that has been set up to help oversee and figure out how we can move certain projects forward.”
One of the features of the plan that falls under Gudorf’s purview is the arts. She addressed why the arts factor into an economic redevelopment and revitalization plan.
“The arts and not just the traditional arts that we think of, but some of the emerging arts and activities that are out there, it’s all part of that urban fabric,” she said. “When you look at it, the arts are an economic driver. It brings hundreds of thousands of people downtown (and) that is so very important, not only to downtown, but to the quality of life of our whole region. While people are downtown for the arts they are also experiencing everything else that downtown has to offer, whether it’s a dessert and a cup of coffee after the show or a glass of wine or just having that artistic experience as well. It’s that connection with people that’s really important.”
She went on to illustrate the power of community involvement.
“I just think that it’s this whole notion that everyone has moved this whole project along collectively and everyone is working within the same framework and on the same page that is important.”
In summing up the difference between this plan and its predecessors, Dr. Ervin said, “The reason this plan is different is that it’s action-oriented. We’ve been forcing ourselves to make priorities and we’re also looking at the finances of all these different things. If we can’t figure out how to pay for it, we’re just not going to do it. Now, that’s very unusual and very different from previous plans. Usually with plans, people create wish lists and that’s not what this does. This sets priorities. It looks at funding and it is also very different because it is a very open process.”
For more information about the Greater Downtown Dayton Plan, which encompasses everything from jobs, economic development and the use and regeneration of public spaces to outdoor recreation, housing and developing a green and sustainable city, visit online at www.DowntownDayton.org. There may be an area in which you can become a part of the plan to revitalize our city.