True or false?

Debunking downtown Dayton myths

By Jacqui Theobald

Photo: Dancing to the big band sounds of the Hal Harris Orchestra performing at the Fiver Rivers MetroParks RiverScape pavilion; photo: Bill Franz

“Do you still like living downtown?” People continue to ask, even after 10 years. Actually we love living in downtown Dayton. For us, and many others, it is the best of all possible worlds.

Residents who choose to rent or own have their choice now of just under a thousand apartments and condos; that’s places, not people. The number continues to grow with works-in-progress – upscale on Sixth, student housing on Ludlow, young professionals on First – for a proposed total of 1,123 units. We walk to almost all the essentials of life and most embellishments. It’s a flexible lifestyle that’s inclusive and easily welcomes people of different ages and races and talents. Within the big city, neighbors thrive.

Still, there are pervasive myths, often voiced by suburbanites who seldom venture downtown. What will it take to look at the reality? Come take a few walks with me.

MYTH:  Downtown Dayton is just so dangerous.

TRUTH: “The future is bright,” according to Lieutenant Ken Beall, commander of the Central Patrol Operations Division, the area including downtown. A significant factor is the addition of more uniformed officers on the street. Their presence and bike certified officers are both a reassurance and a deterrent. The force will continue to increase with two new Police Academy graduating classes over the last year, with another coming in December.

Many city crime problems were connected to a few bars now being successfully addressed.  “A combination of parallel legal actions; eviction, nuisance charges heard in Common Pleas and objections to extending liquor licenses have been effective in closing bars like the Vault,” Lt. Beall said. Problems with several other bars where violence, especially late at night, has continued are next. He expects to see overall statistics improve as they are closed.

Downtown Priority Board members have been proactive in making it clear downtowners will not tolerate violent behavior. They are being heard. Police Department officials working with citizens are making a difference.

After a play or concert at the Schuster or the Loft, we always walk home to the east about 10:30 or 11 p.m. without a problem. That hour is safe, but after midnight might require caution. It’s that old common sense thing.

MYTH: The Oregon District is just a lot of bars and nightlife.

TRUTH: The area dates from the era of the Miami-Erie Canal – 1829. Mike Martin lives and has businesses in the District. He loves the whole neighborhood and has seen its first bloom back in the 1970s when do-it-yourselfers began to rescue the beautiful old houses and restore them, sharing grit and grime stories, creating a community. When Fifth Street’s old taverns remained a little rough, several rocky years followed. Jay’s at one end and Dublin Pub at the Wayne intersection set contrasting standards.

Now, Oregon thrives. Some 15 shops; antiques, vintage clothing, designer t-shirts, hats and art galleries have joined upscale restaurants. Bar managers have taken police training, learning to handle arguments and problems, significantly improving the sense of security. The Downtown Dayton Partnership’s “Clean and Safe Program” is well received and used.

When we hear statistics on crime indicating decreases, it is important to note citizens are working together to create a safe city.

MYTH: There’s no place to eat downtown.

TRUTH: Local restaurant owners might be surprised to hear that. Within a half-mile of the Schuster, there are over 20 really interesting places to sit down, some tucked away in unlikely places. Olive, An Urban Dive occupies the old Wympee’s at the corner of Wayne and Third Streets.

The Oregon District has many choices, including Dayton favorites Oregon Express and Trolley Stop, ethnic flavors, such as the always-reliable Franco’s on Fifth or modern Italian Roost in Oregon. Roost maintains a valet parking service, as does Salar, toward the west end of the District.  Jay’s and Thai 9 – praised by a visiting Thailand native – have parking space between them off Fifth.

Need barbeque? Across from the Neon nestles Smokin’ Bar-b-que. Oink-a-Doodle-Moo is busy at lunch across from the Shuster on Second. Along Main there’s upscale Citilites, sophisticated soul food at De’Lish and flights of wine and fine dining at The Wine Gallery at Monument, overlooking the river.

Many dining reviews appear in DCP and specific information is available on the DDP’s website. You won’t go hungry.

Courthouse Square at lunchtime in the summer has everything: various food vendors, different performers entertaining weekdays. On Thursday, I saw large checkers and chess sets on black and white ground cloth “boards,” and several little putting greens, each with a club and a bucket of balls.

MYTH: Dayton really isn’t a walkable city.

TRUTH: Distances are short and Dayton is clean and neat. UpDayton has posted small blue and white signs giving times to walk from point to point. The Ambassador Program, people in yellow/green vests, are another safety presence. They sweep, pick up trash, remove graffiti and give directions. They’re always friendly and helpful, but also serve as extra eyes and ears and will call the police if necessary, according to Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership, which supports and promotes many of the City’s improvements.

MYTH: Dayton is a dying city – a terrible place to open a business.

TRUTH: Some say Dayton’s lost the entrepreneurial spirit that made it famous, but there are new kinds of innovators here in technology and small business. New perspectives take brains and skill; Dayton has a fine supply of both, no longer needing to depend on the old, departed giant corporations. A local business owner commented, “Dayton is just right for fresh ideas and downtown has reasonable rent and is easy to get around.”

MYTH: Driving in Dayton is horrendous.

TRUTH: What? You think the streets are impossible? Well, you do have to read the signs. It is startling, if not scary, to see a car turning the wrong way on a one-way street, especially as a pedestrian. You probably won’t make that mistake but once. The east-west streets used to alternate directions, now most go in both directions. Most of the time. Around Sinclair there are a couple of surprises, as well as around the RTA terminal on Jefferson. Be alert!

MYTH: Parking is worse.

TRUTH: According to Karen Wicker of the DDP, within the 40-block “Prime Office District” the river to the north, the railroad overpass to the south, Perry and Patterson on the west and east, there are about 15,000 spaces. That includes 1,300 meters, 2,500 spaces in surface lots and 11,200 spaces in garages, with various costs. Downtowner Steve Seboldt suggested a few more low-cost, limited time meters for pharmacy pick-ups. Meters are free after 6 p.m. and on weekends. I notice a lot of folks get to the ball games about that time and find good spots.

Perceptions are personal. If a parking place exactly where you want it doesn’t magically appear at the very minute you need it, then it seems there just is no parking. When I reluctantly go to the mall, I always end up parking about half a mile from the entrance, with no sidewalks for safety.

Walk with me along St. Clair … Several pop-ups supported by ActivatedDayton, exemplify that spirit of cooperation moving through the city. American Pi, featuring made-in-the U.S. goods has just expanded. Green Baby sells environmentally friendly goods and also wants to host community meetings and private events. Pilates is brand new. We’ve heard good things about the Serendipity Bistro, serene inside, providing outdoor summertime tables. They join the recently-relocated art gallery CADC that also has colorful event space available. H. David’s Ceramic studio is the elegant pioneer of the block. It’s tempting to stop at the Neon, showing the best variety of films in the area. We can walk there any time; it’s less than 10 minutes from Riverscape.

Continuing along Patterson … Patterson Boulevard Canal Parkway project, recently completed in June, was an ambitious project. Sidewalks were widened, the street narrowed, trees planted with ornamental grasses beneath. It’s a welcoming walkway/bikeway between the beginning of Oregon to Riverscape and Fifth Third Field. Anchored at the south end by a bright yellow, metal sculpture representing the flow of creative energy in Dayton, the corridor has green and white obelisks with permanent photos and stories of Dayton history in the area. Reading them can feel like a compulsion. Walk – read – just one more. And one more. Fascinating factoids.

MYTH: Panhandlers are dangerous and hang out at the library.

TRUTH: They have to have a license and follow the rules. Lieutenant Beall suggests, “Just say ‘no,’ and if you’re uncomfortable, call the police; they’re probably just around the corner.”  Library Director Tim Kambitsch observed that many waiting outside in the morning are in line for computer use. The Metro Library has hired a Security Manager, enhanced the cameras and trained personnel to handle problems better. They also coordinate information with the police.

MYTH: If I park downtown, my car will be broken into.

TRUTH: Remember that common sense thing? Beall again: “What they don’t see, they seldom steal.”

Daytonians come downtown for their favorite things: Baseball, Urban Nights, First Fridays (Merchants, restaurants and galleries love that!), festivals, concerts and Riverscape performances. Those events don’t seem to cause uneasiness.

My favorite things: Begin the morning with a brisk walk from Riverscape where volunteer gardeners keep “my” front yard full of beautiful color and shadow. I’m grateful. Walk up the east side of the river, say hello to the bronze Wright Brothers, enjoy duck and geese antics. A three-mile roundtrip.

Saturday morning, walk to PNC Second Street Public Market. It’s energetic with cordial buyers and sellers. Watch potter Jon Graham spin magic and mesmerize kids – adults, too. Buy bread, cheese, fruit, wine, flowers. Perfect.

Attend a free band concert on Thursday night; all ages toe tapping, dancing. At a recent Hal Harris performance, Metro Tech Jeff, bearded and busy said, “Over 500 people tonight, a lovely crowd!”

Watch, from a gently moving swing, the sun set on the river. Couples walk by, families of all kinds. Great people-watching. Water, rushing or calm, brings a sense of serenity. There’s no better place to be. Downtown Dayton, Ohio.



Reach DCP freelance writer Jacqui Theobald at


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