A word that people bandy about when they bring my name up is “crazy.” That is until they actually know me. Unfortunately, I’m cursed with something that isn’t valued much in Dayton- a very high IQ. It’s one of those things that I don’t care about, but what I do care about is my city, as do most people who read this site. Most of you are gutless wonders performing your role as part of “the machine”- and as of this election, I’m here to tell you- the machine is on its last legs. Here is why,
Note, you can skip this next section entirely, and jump straight to the topic of the day- the great food truck debate, but, since it’s Thanksgiving, I thought I’d give thanks to the crooks who got us to where we are today.
The first hints of trouble started back in the mid-1980s
Despite the pride that we have in our “city manager” system which was supposed to keep politics out of running our city, it’s never really been anything but a front for business to control the local markets. The Dayton Business Committee — and before them, the All Dayton Committee, met in back rooms and schemed out their plans for where and what was supposed to be done in Dayton. One powerful family in the mix were the Danises who liked to build things- from buildings to landfills and water treatment plants. Another were the Beermans- who besides owning a department store downtown, also owned a lot of real estate. What was good for the scions of Dayton – was good for Dayton. Unfortunately, none of them had a clue about city planning- or sprawl, other than “building is good” for the economy- so build we did and sprawl some more. Dayton did well with Fortune 500 HQ’s for a city our size- with Mead, Reynolds, & Reynolds, Standard Register, and NCR in the mix. The workers had jobs that paid well, thanks especially to Generous Motors- where Dayton was the lone bastion of the IUE in the auto biz- and caused Detroit no end of headaches with the odd-guy-out issues.
The political parties played along- as long as they could keep their patronage jobs working, and they never elected anyone who would stand up to the boys in the back room who really were calling the shots. And make no mistake- the people who were calling the shots weren’t afraid to show their muscle- when I first ran for mayor- the windows at my office were shot out twice to send a message, but that’s already after the major shift that was the first hint of where we are today.
An early big bad idea by government
The city was celebrating the reopening of the Arcade- things were good, but we needed to keep the Danis family happy. A study came out saying there was a shortage of Class A office space downtown, and if we didn’t build it- businesses would flee. The Dayco tower by the Dayton Mall was a very scary symbol to those downtown. Danis started with a plan to build the CitFed tower at 2nd and Main and got caught up with preservation problems. In the meantime, the city, still flush with cash from payroll income taxes on all those NCR jobs, thought that they had done so well with the redevelopment of the arcade- that they should build a tower too. Remember, this is because a “study” said we needed it. They entered into an agreement with Webb Henne developers to build a tower at Third and Main – in competition with the Danis tower. A squabble broke out and people were taking sides and fighting for one tower or the other. A lot of money was used to grease wheels- and despite the city contract with Webb Henne stating they must have at least 35% pre-leased to move ahead- they built it with only 20% leased. The Danis tower, although it was first to be announced, opened later, and a fight for rearranging deck chairs broke out. Danis paid the Police Chief, Tyree Broomfield $100,000 to go away, he got the contract to build the landfill on the West Side (which was the reason party favorite Clay Dixon lost to Republican wonderboy Mike Turner). At some point, the city decided to shut down the city steam system- probably as payoff by DP&L which often hired political types into very nice “government affair jobs.” Without city steam- the arcade could no longer be heated, older buildings had to retrofit (a very expensive process) and Danis got the arcade, closed it down- in an attempt to force the eventual foreclosure on the Arcade tower and on and on the spinning wheel goes.
The idea that the city should and could be a player in the public sector as an investor, financier, owner was officially hatched. Never mind that every project was practically stillborn- or required tradeoffs, subsidies, etc. The investment in the Landing and the downtown YMCA drove Joe Moore to close his downtown gym- swearing never to return. Other real estate investors sat and watched as tax breaks drove their rents down- until almost every major building downtown has been sold under duress/foreclosure (the only one not suffering this fate as far as I know is the Talbott tower). Like pizza chains offering cheap pizza, the race to the bottom was on- and there are no winners. Downtown was eating up more time, resources and tax dollars- and the focus on quality of life for the residents was put on the back burner. It didn’t help that NAFTA was signed in the early 1990s and that giant sucking sound started to slowly siphon off the good jobs and the income tax receipts that came with them.
Dayton has a whole layer of quasi-government that has been built over the years to help keep the paper trail confusing to the general observer. Citywide Development Corporation and the Downtown Dayton Partnership and more recently, the Dayton Development Coalition have taken the driver’s seats over from the former Dayton Business Committee- or at least, they think they have. And while the DBC still exists, now they include the publisher of the Dayton Daily News in their group- because, well, they have to control the story and keep the voters in the dark and clueless.
Really insidious things have been allowed to happen, without so much as a peep from the masses. The giant sucking sound out of Downtown to Austin Landing has been supported with more tax dollars than is in Dayton’s annual budget. As to collecting income taxes- now, despite the law that says “townships” can’t levy income taxes- they’ve somehow engineered the taxation of blue-collar workers there- while the white-collar workers- who all used to work in Dayton (Teradata, Thompson Hine, etc.) don’t pay income taxes. The same is happening to blue-collar workers at Miller Lane in Butler Township.
We’ve been sidetracked with dreams of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles as our savior (drones) and before that, composites and for a minute fuel cells and before that distribution hub, which is now being dusted off again as a rally cry of the people who get paid to pronounce instead of actually do. The siphoning of money from the poor to the rich isn’t just a Wall Street thing- it’s done daily here in Dayton – which is how we come to food trucks. The lowest rung of the ladder.
The Great Thanksgiving Day Food Truck Massacre
It started on Tuesday, when Tonia Fish told me that her temporary lease on the old Chin’s/Elbo’s/Sa-Bai space at 200 S. Jefferson St. may not be renewed. A meeting of some sort had been held in City Hall and the decision was coming. Mayor Leitzell had told me that in the executive session last week, where this matter was being discussed, Nan Whaley wasn’t prepared to vote on it and it was tabled. Had they had another illegal meeting of the commission to discuss this lease? There wasn’t an announced session- and since Executive sessions have to be done either as an emergency and announced- or gone into from a regularly scheduled meeting- what had happened?
Full disclosure- Tonia and her husband Joe Fish have been my friends for a long time. They own the Chef Case in the 2nd Street market – and I’ve done a few projects for them. I’ve been left out of all of the Synergy Incubators marketing- because I’m too controversial.
Mrs. Fish is a force to be reckoned with. Having worked with high-powered people in big cities, she’s meticulous in her planning and in the execution of her plans. Her business plan was to turn the space in the Transportation Center Garage into a communal kitchen/teaching/banquet place for independent food operators. This actually dovetails with businesses like Thai 9 that routinely have to turn down large events that they can’t cater or book because it would disrupt their regular business- as opposed to the last tenant the city put in this space, Sa-Bai, that was direct, subsidized competition for Thai 9.
She’d already begun offering business education at the former Dayton Public Schools Central Kitchen which was in mothballs until she opened Dayton’s first mobile food business commissary. The kitchen is currently licensed as a prep kitchen which food trucks and carts use as home base. But, it’s a manufacturing plant- not a restaurant training ground. The city claims to be in favor of this part of her plan- and supports it. The sticking point that killed this local food incubator wasn’t the low rent- but the plan to help support this facility by having one day a month food truck rallies on this location. Hard to believe that drawing a few thousand people downtown once a month is a threat to any restaurant business- and no business owner would come out and say this, but, because this is Dayton. Ohio- where irrational behavior gets rewarded, the one-year lease/experiment got axed officially yesterday.
Food trucks don’t kill business- idiots kill businesses
Two people railed behind the scenes to put the kibosh on the food truck rallies. One was Realtor and Oregon District Business Association head Mike Martin. While the city has no other potential tenants for either the space in question or the former Greyhound station- the idea of a tenant that pays rent and keeps the place operating apparently isn’t good enough for Mike. He has trotted out a “club promoter” who has said they aren’t interested in the space as a potential tenant just to sew a fine thread of hope in the commission’s micro-sized minds. He says, even though no vote has been taken, that the ODBA is against food truck rallies- even though Mrs. Fish had letters of support from Lily’s, Blind Bob’s, Thai 9 and the 5th Street Deli in hand. Of course, the ODBA isn’t all restaurants and bars- businesses like Sew Dayton, and the Urban Krag support the food trucks- as do Gilly’s and the Neon Movies, and would love to see the district not closed off to customers for the annual drunk fest at Halloween which negatively impact their businesses.
The other is the Downtown Dayton Partnership head, Sandy Gudorf, who went around claiming that she was doing an official survey sponsored by the city on whether the businesses support food truck rallies. With the recent inclusion of the Oregon District in the area managed by the DDP (the “ambassadors” program- privately contracted sanitation workers doing work the city or property owners should do) the claim that the food trucks don’t pay for her services is her main complaint. 200 S, Jefferson has always been in the SID that funds the DDP- and is current on payments. Never mind the fact that without the failings of the city to do the right things (see the first part of this post) her organization wouldn’t have a reason to exist. Her un-scientific, un-professional poll was used as the basis for the rejecting the lease according to sources in city hall.
A Facebook campaign ad for Esrati about Tech Town investment
No one asked other real estate owners downtown if they wanted to compete with tax financed and subsidized projects like the arcade tower or tech town. Over $40 million has been spent on incubators for startup businesses at Tech Town- many of whom have never even paid rent. An entire empty building has been standing for over two years- and only after it became a campaign issue have they found a tenant by giving another sweetheart deal to Children’s Medical Center (rearranging deck chairs instead of creating new ships).
No one questions a new restaurant opening at the Dayton Mall, the Greene or the Fairfield Commons mall area- yet, the idea of a pop-up food truck pod one day a month is somehow dangerous to the fragile economic ecosystem downtown?
The city commission didn’t make a ruling on this in a legal meeting. Therefore, this decision has been made by city staff with their tacit approval. When are we going to hold anyone accountable for the complete clusterduck that happened with Sa-Bai? From the ridiculous lease, to the late opening, to the missed rent, to the destruction of city owned fixtures and theft, to the leaving of food to rot for months in the space (which was all cleaned up by Mrs. Fish’s people). It’s become pretty obvious that city involvement in the private real estate market has more of a destabilizing effect than a positive one. Maybe if our government tried sticking to governing we’d be in better shape?
Signs of disaster since the election
The dust up over Garden Station should have been a wake-up call to the people of Dayton of what could be expected by the Party of Nan, where organic (in every sense of the way) projects would be getting shut down. And just before the election the implosion of the Schwind building, before a clear deed and signed contract were in hand should have been the second.
But in the weeks since the election with the lowest turnout in history coupled with the biggest campaign budget- we’ve seen the rear of the Dayton Daily News building demolished by accident, the emergency pay raise and now the food truck massacre. The Water Street project is also standing in line for a handout from taxpayers- along with another tax abatement to screw our schools. What’s almost funny is that the only rumored tenant so far is PNC Bank which would move from another landmark building- the I.M. Pei-designed building at Third and Main- more deck chair rearranging, which will most likely screw the other David Greer (the banjo playing lawyer) who’s offices are in that building- which will have a hard time affording their tax bills and utilities without that space being full. Greer was a big supporter of Whaley not only donating money- but playing at her fundraiser at Jimmie’s Ladder 11.
What to do to save the food trucks and Dayton?
If this is to be the final straw that breaks the camel’s back- it’s time to do a real survey of businesses in the area to see if they do or don’t support the one-day-a-month rallies- and then if the majority really does oppose the trucks and the people they bring to the failed corner- maybe we should organize a boycott of their establishments? Free market capitalism deserves support- and those who don’t agree- shouldn’t get your money. Note, if the space in question was owned by a private company, there would be NOTHING the city could do to stop the rallies.
The harder part, is to change the city charter. First step would be to gather 12,000+ signatures of registered voters to put the change in the charter to match Ohio Revised Code on numbers of signatures required for changing the charter and recall to be based on actual voters and not voters on the books. This means more people than voted for the future Mayor would have to sign. I used to think that it should be based on the number of votes in the gubernatorial elections- but, after Ms. Whaley’s pathetic performance and the low turnout- I think it should be based on the number of voters who voted to put people in office. So instead of needing 25% of the 35,000 or so people who voted in Dayton to sign a petition to recall the mayor- it would be 25% of the number of votes in that election – or in this case- 25% of about 16,000 or 4,000- an approachable number in Dayton.
And lastly, since the city is turning down a lease, maybe the income to the taxpayers, as well as the utilities, taxes, insurance etc. that would have been taken care of by a private organization, should be taken out of the commission’s newly increased salaries?
It was just last week that the Dayton Daily News told us that Downtown Dayton was leading the nation in vacancy and that it was at death’s door. Here is an opportunity to bring some vitality and hope back. The food truck rallies are an easy way to bring something to a downtown starving for vibrancy.
Your thoughts are welcome in comments below. The real question is whether we can get two hundred volunteers to collect signatures to change our charter and give us the ability to end this kind of irrational behavior?