Compare Over the Rhine in Cincinnati to Oregon District in Dayton. Any questions?

by David Esrati on March 5, 2013

in big ideas for Dayton OH, Dayton Government, Economic Development in Dayton OH

If you need proof that Dayton needs a change, go down to the Oregon District on Fifth St. The business district. Notice it’s only one street, and about 3 blocks long. Even after Dr. Ervin put his own money up to push the use of more of the buildings, it hasn’t changed that much.

Then go to Over The Rhine in Cincinnati. 6 years ago friends of mine bought a recently remodeled condo for $218K and it was a dicey investment. Now, other units are selling for 30% more, there are a lot of new renovations in place and there is even brand new mixed use construction going on- and- by the way, there are 2 of Cincinnati’s top 5 restaurants (Senate & Abigail Street) around the corner, a ton of new bars and other restaurants and even some funky shops that have useful things (not art- which is nice, but has proven to be less than viable).

The wait at multiple restaurants on a Saturday night was over an hour. The places were packed. And, what’s more- while OTR is hot, Northside is starting to pop as well, and Clifton is making Brown Street (our best success so far) look really lame.

Why is development retarded in Dayton- and I mean that in the proper way, not like the epitaph  kids hurl on the playground. It comes back to Dayton’s employment of “Inspector Gotcha.” He’s not a single person, he’s a mindset. It comes from working in a FUD environment. As in Elmer Fudd? Almost. Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. It happens when people are afraid that they may lose their nice comfy government job if they actually take action to overcome stupid rules, ease bureaucracy and empower citizens to take risks and work with what we have, which is a bunch of old buildings, streets and neighborhoods that are not and never will be the cookie cutter disneyland of The Greene.

A developer who has done more for the city in my neighborhood than anyone else, investing millions,  lamented on Facebook that they are being jacked around again over something stupid in the code.

So in order to get the final inspection we had to create a handicapped parking space for an apartment that is on the second floor and therefore is not handicapped accessible. Seriously?!? It’s not just a waste of time and money but just makes people wonder why the hell they try to do business in the City.

The comment thread goes wild. This from a business that took a risk in an empty building and started something amazing- that now has 2 other locations (both outside the city of Dayton)

the hi/low water fountain in a space that will never need or use it. Same feeling.

From a Realtor and Priority Board chair:

It’s all about protecting one’s own turf with out regard for the client. Ask Haitham at Carmen’s Downtown. He just went thru all that.

From another Realtor:

Some of the requirements of some of the agencies are ridiculous and impractical. I know an agency in town whose responsibility is to educate practices intimidation instead…

Back from the PB chair:

My fav is the story about the inspector that comes out and does a drywall screw count.

From the developer again:

I’m not going to say anything else because I clearly cannot afford to piss anyone else off. I could understand it if I was doing shoddy work, but by the time the building is finished, I will have 3x in construction costs more than the building is currently appraised for.

continued…

unfortunately if you go over someone’s head, it’s held against you later. Hence the reason I’m having to jump through so many ridiculous hoops now. The culture of revenge needs to end. I guess some are just politically untouchable. You know me, I love just about everyone I come into contact with at the City. I value the work being done but dammit there are a few that just need to be put out to pasture before they do any more damage.

From another citizen who has experienced it first hand:

Of all of the various “economic development” projects that the city has invested in over the years, a complete overhaul of their building services department would be more effective than all of them. It is hard enough to repurpose these older buildings for today’s uses, but then the city goes out of their way to make it even more difficult with their pass-the-buck and anti-customer mentality. Every single person I’ve ever known who has tried to do a rehab project in the city has the same horror stories. The buck stops with the city manager.

To me- it stops with the City Commission- who is supposed to tell the city manager what is acceptable policy.

In Over the Rhine, I went into a small restaurant about 4 years ago. It was put together on a shoestring. Particle board for counters, you had to walk through the kitchen to get to the bathrooms, which weren’t handicapped accessible and up three steps. The place was funky but the food was great. That little incubator space was enough to get them into their new place- look at the website: Mayberry.

The key is Cincinnati never let “Inspector Gotcha” get in the way. It’s my plan to send him and his crony, FUD, packing when I get elected. Our City Commission has one small business person now in Gary Leitzell, it’s time to add another. I went through hell over 22 years ago to save my office building from being another one of Nan’s demolition specials. I know what the visionaries in Dayton have had to fight. It’s time they had a voice on the Dayton City Commission.

…and yes, I’m going to catch hell for publishing this for all to see, I’m sorry to those whose words I’ve taken and exposed, but it’s time that the little weasels ruining our city take a head on attack, lead by a leader who isn’t taking orders from the patronage mill that’s been run by the Montgomery County Democratic Party for the last 25+ years. You can shoot me, the messenger, but you should really be shooting at the Commission and the City Manager, because these are the people who have allowed this crap to go on since, well, since I put up the “wrong kind of garage doors” in 1986 on a house that I bought for $14,500 and had to change the doors and shovel dog crap for INVESTING in Dayton. I went to City Hall and was ignored. That’s what started my political career, and I’m not going to quit trying until the people we elect stand up for the people who actually do something in this city.

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

larry sizer March 5, 2013 at 8:55 am

Good show David, love it when you talk about Dayton’s inspectors, that think from their left side of the brain. I had the same problem over a window I installed with a rear facing elevation. I went to Planning to have it put to the front of my house, which they rejected, but was told that there was no problem with it going to the back of the house, since it just faced an alley. I installed it and nine months later they told me I had to take it out, and put a stop work order on my house till it was removed. I contacted all of the Architects in Dayton and they wouldn’t handle it out of fear, had to go to Cincinnati and get one to write a letter, and a lawyer that cost $3200.00 to keep my window. Good luck future Dayton City Commissioner, David Esrati.

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truddick March 5, 2013 at 9:08 am

While the basic premise is correct, there’s a danger in going too far to the other extreme.  A restaurant that has particle board counters is not sanitary unless they’re properly sealed; neither is having patrons walking through a kitchen routinely.  Not enough enforcement could be worse than too much (and inconsistent, make-it-up-as-you-go enforcement is intolerable in any case).

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Mel March 5, 2013 at 9:32 am

Mayor Leitzell, can you please weigh in as to why our city’s building/code enforcement departments seem to be stuck in this mentality of reinforced bureaucracy? And why our city government hasn’t taken steps to ease some of these archaic restrictions that seem to hamper both worker AND developer/business owner?

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David Esrati March 5, 2013 at 9:33 am

@Truddick and that’s why Houston has turned into Sodom and Gomorrah by not having zoning at all? A lot more citizens die because we live in a city that invests in buildings with no public use- instead of police. Changing the batteries in smoke detectors would save more lives than anything building inspection does. The funny thing is, you can live in a 100 year old house and have no problems- unless you want to improve it. Then they get it involved and start with the screw counts, dimensions of lumber, kind of insulation. I could go on.
As to the particle board- no one died, yes it was sealed, and everyone had to walk through the kitchen. Putting up a sign that says “Employees must wash hands before returning to work” is the law- but, trust me, a lot of people don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom- and Darwin hasn’t killed them off yet.

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Chris March 5, 2013 at 10:52 am

It is not like Houston doesn’t have all kinds of codes and regulations though, especially building, which is what everyone is really talking about. http://library.municode.com/index.aspx?clientId=10123 (see Chapter 10, Code of Ordinances).  I don’t think it is the codes as much as it is the approach and attitude of the regulators.

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djw March 5, 2013 at 11:04 am

Let me echo Mel is a polite request that the Mayor, if he’s reading these comments, consider weighing in on this issue. Two questions, really:
 
1) Do you agree with D.E. and his facebook friends that this is a serious and unnecessary problem for Dayton?
2) If yes, or something close to it, what have you done as Mayor to address this issue? What do you plan to do in the future? And what would like to do to address it further, but don’t currently have the power (or votes on the council) to do?

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Lynn March 5, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Hey Dave, I have seen housing inspectors deter new owners of properties several times myself…..I can provide examples.
 How does leadership expect the city to progress and renovate when these inspectors with bad attitudes chase off investors?  I dont see a great deal of money pouring into the city locally, exept for the dealers that purchase housing in the city and no one checks them.  I have examples.
Why isnt there a triage e.g. go after people living in squaller in Dayton, kids in filth, people without utilities, holes in roofs, etc first, changing out windows later, much later….

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Donald Phillips March 5, 2013 at 2:14 pm

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David Esrati March 5, 2013 at 3:13 pm

@Lynn- I can’t answer for the city. But, I think that after you’ve done a few good projects- there should be an expedited process. Actions speak louder than words.

As to going after squalor- it’s why I had to buy the houses across the street from me- I couldn’t stand it anymore.

The problem just moved to Jersey St. The government can’t do everything- but there was no way that house should have been inhabited. Of course, the guy I bought it from- owned property that the city leased from him for a priority board office. Coincidence? I think not.

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Gary Leitzell March 5, 2013 at 3:18 pm

OK. My two cents. For those who didn’t know, I am not permitted by law to involve myself in the operations of the city. I can not tell any member of staff what to do. I can make suggestions and I can tell the city manager what I think he should do or be doing. It takes three members of the commission to get rid of a city manager. Tim has 5/0 support which is why he has taken a few risks and I made it very clear to staff in 2010 that they need to try as many things as possible and be willing to screw up on a few things. I would take the hit from the media. After all, in 2010 the media was coming after me for stupid stuff anyway. That being said we have made some headway in the building services department. Things were going good for a while and most people were complimenting our staff for their effort. We have had a few retirements recently and Jim Montgomery was working on some procedure changes that were common sense solutions but I don’t believe it was completed before he left. Now we have to replace some inspectors with ones with less experience. We are going to run into some personality conflicts along the way. Don’t be afraid to ask me specific questions. I am not afraid to point things out to Tim Riordan. A common sense approach to solving problems is the quickest solution. Our staff need to know that they can do this and the elected members will not retaliate if honest mistakes are made. So the people need to elect people who demonstrate an ability to use common sense so that they can lead by example instead of following by designation.

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Mel March 5, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Thanks, Mayor. I am aware of the org structure of Dayton’s govt., and realize your “superpowers” are more about enabling the city manager and staff to be able to make the kinds of changes that truly assist citizens. Though wishes are fishes, I honestly hope there is more discussion about how to break some of these entrenched bureaucratic areas and making it possible for city employees to make good things happen for the city. I get frustrated with the attitude of “business as usual,” particularly when the stale status quo is seen as “good enough.” Because it’s not.

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bobby March 6, 2013 at 8:12 am

Mayor Leitzell,
An alternative to replacing inspector retirees might be to subcontract a portion of inspections with the county’s building inspection department.  A premium permit fee could be charged to opt out of working with the city inspectors. Should you find that a high percentage of your regular developer/contractos opt for the premium permit, then the city building inspection department could be phased out and replaced by the county.
 
     

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djw March 6, 2013 at 10:39 am

Thanks for your response, Mayor, (And for reminding me why I prefer the strong mayor political system).

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UrbanEconomists March 6, 2013 at 11:43 am

You fail at one of the most basic premises of economic development.  That is that one size fits all.  Just because something has worked for Cincinnati, does not mean it is a valid plan for Dayton.  For one there are different demographics of the cities, and size of the cities (This I think is key for development) . Also when you start looking at crime numbers and some other statistics for the areas of Cincinnati you talk about they not as much of a success story that you claim they are.
 
Another thing is some of the gain in places like Over The Rhine can be seen as a positive externality, and sign or real job growth, as we can assume that small boutique shops, and specialty restaurants are and never will be a driver of growth.

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Donald Phillips March 6, 2013 at 2:34 pm

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Emily Weaver March 8, 2013 at 9:33 pm

Haven’t posted on this issue in a while DE –
Our parking lot was recently cited (last week) for “Non-compliance” for failure to adhere to the new landscaping/design of our lot. As I have stated in previous posts – thru my involvement in a historic district – I warned my father that this will be screwed up top to bottom (the City screams about paper size, font size, who saw/signed what).
My father hired an Engineer (money) and an attorney (more gobs of money) to comply with the City’s requests for changes. There are emails between the engineer and the attorney and the City stating that we were willing/happy to comply dated 18 months ago.
Now instead of calling my father or GOD FRICKIN’ FORBID doing a basic email search of correspondence on their computer server – they took the time to staple a violation on the sign of our parking lot and mail a Certified Letter. So now our engineer (money, money) and our attorney (donate-my-kidney amounts of money) are involved AGAIN.
Funny there was dead silence on the phone when Dad said to “DW” at the City that he has time-date stamped correspondence from 18m ago.  The City has an ugly track record of send-the-citation-and-see-what-comes-out-in-the-wash mentality that is utterly defeating to those like my father and me that do make every effort to legally comply.
Sorry when you have people in a position that cannot be FIRED for gross negligence – or repugnant incompetence – then you get:
1.      CoCo’s receiving a tax grant for $75K for a building in a really, really poor location.  My last meal there was visited by a junkie slamming his face into the front window.  I found it mildly disturbing – it’s true that one becomes immune to city life.  The elderly couple behind me did not find it so amusing.  At all.  But $75,000 of your money and my money helped build it.  Warm and fuzzies anyone?
2.      A methadone clinic within 2 blocks of a private school (CJ is not cheap).  Does anyone in the City Zoning Department do ANY due diligence or did they think that people would think a methadone clinic near a school was wonderful? Making it “illegal” after the fact, well…do I need to mention a horse and an open barn door?
3.      Finally, when food trucks (one of the City’s shining stars) are told that certain hours, of certain days, may or may not be able to park on a public street, because the City employee who is a cousin-twice-removed-by-marriage says OK (but only if the food truck can stand on its head and rub its belly simultaneously and only then…).
WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG HERE? 
Common sense has left these employees.  In an effort to comply with whatever PC crap is rolling down the pike – the worst of the worst have been hired and are wholly, totally immune to what a real business would demand – positive results with a happy clientele.  Otherwise – you are fired.  It’s a real simple business model that has worked quite well in the private sector for years.
They do remember that they are supposed to work with us not against us?
 

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David Esrati March 8, 2013 at 9:45 pm

@Emily-

You and I both know the city is working for MVH to force your lot into their hands.

Coco’s is a client- I’m going to stay out of that. But the location is a good one for them- they needed a bigger space.

The methadone clinic isn’t happening now.

Food trucks- don’t get me started. It’s a mixed bag on that- should they be able to pull outside my restaurant and sell- probably not. Should they be able to rent a space on Courthouse Square- or at a festival- or move from place to place- probably.

Either way- it’s still Inspector Gotcha working downtown.

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dave March 9, 2013 at 5:46 pm

Hate the use of the word retarded, used the “proper” way or not.

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Gene March 11, 2013 at 3:40 pm

 
“CoCo’s receiving a tax grant for $75K for a building….” EM
 
“Coco’s is a client- I’m going to stay out of that.” DE
 
Coco’s receives a sweet heart deal and it’s ok with you bc they are your client? Oh boy have you lost a lot of credibility. You have B&M for years about businesses receiving money for “development purposes.”
 
I will bet that Inspector Gotcha turns his or her head when “development” money is behind something.

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Emily Weaver March 13, 2013 at 6:51 pm

DE – you missed my point - and just for the record, we WON our lawsuit against the City and ergo MVH.  So drop that whole idea that MVH is going to be taking ANYTHING from us.  And “Burpy” at MVH hates that fact.
The City has its “favorites” like CoCo’s yet supposed “problem children” like my father and I, who at every turn have twisted into knots to comply with whatever the City asks of us. 
We are just trying to get a landscaping plan approved (shrubs and curbs).  The City harassed my father to “get it done immediately” (which happened to be 10 days after my mother died) only to be told that it is lost/misplaced/on the planet Jupiter 18 months later. 
See we have spent thousands of dollars on attorneys, engineers, demolition, etc.  Yet b/c Jim & Karen G can’t pay their bills and they are on the “Good Boys and Girls List” they get $75,000 for free??!!  Maybe they shouldn’t have bought and rehabbed the multi-unit next door to CoCo’s new location.  Maybe they should go to their BANK and pay INTEREST on a LOAN like oh, I don’t know… my father and I have had to do!?   If a bank won’t loan to them (its called OVER-EXTENDED) why should my City?  Why the hell should I or any citizen of Dayton have to bail out their financial ineptitude?
Too bad if they “needed a bigger location” – I don’t think we need new curbs.  But guess what, I’m going to pay for new curbs.  And it looks like I paid for CoCo’s “bigger location” which I didn’t want to pay for either.
Your head would pop like a tick if it were Mike Turner getting money for free while you were harassed by Inspector Gotcha and you know it. 
How noble of you to decline to comment on your clients yet OUT everyone else on this post.  

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Peter J March 13, 2013 at 7:15 pm

What say you David?

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David Esrati March 13, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Emily- Yes, the city plays favorites. Yes, inspectors do play favorites, and there is no excuse for hassling you for your lot- if it was built to meet the code of the day when it was built.

I don’t believe in the city giving our tax dollars to private businesses anywhere. And, if we must- it should be through a blind application process that is available to any and all.

May I point out that both buildings that the Gagnet’s took over- were under-used and under valued- and have both turned into both higher taxes and payroll- as well as enhanced the city. Again- I don’t believe in the grant- but, I’d say we’ve gotten better bang for our buck out of them than most.

If I was asked to vote as a city commissioner on the grant- I would vote no, because it violates the basic premise that the income taxes of the minimum wage worker is going to do something that it’s not supposed to do. End of story. Client or not- the vote would be no.

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Dominick March 14, 2013 at 11:39 am

Just because you think that a person with a disability wouldn’t live on the second floor doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. In NYC, I have friends in wheelchairs living on the 95th floor of their buildings. I also know people who can walk, albeit have trouble walking long distances, but live in upper floors (without elevators). Sometimes, people have to go with housing they can afford, even if they would do better with something wheelchair accessible. So, those wheelchair parking spaces are needed. This just shows your ableism Mr. Esrati (and your ableist builder friend who just wants to get a break in his pocketbook by not having to put in disability-friendly parking).

Dayton is actually one of the most disability friendly cities I have lived in. We do not need people in power who want to change that or don’t “get it”!

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David Lauri March 14, 2013 at 1:10 pm

Good point, Dominick, about how users of accessible parking spaces aren’t always people limited to the ground floor. The sign for an accessible parking space has an image of a person using a wheelchair, but not everyone who qualifies for an accessible parking placard uses a wheelchair. Not all disabilities are readily apparent to casual observers.
 
Moreover, the Americans with Disabilities Act has something to say about accessible parking requirements. Dayton’s “Inspector Gotcha” may well be a real issue, but the city must comply with state and federal law in addition to its own code.

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David Esrati March 14, 2013 at 3:25 pm

@Dominck- I”m not anti-ADA at all, and I don’t have a problem with it- and after @David Lauri pointed it out- yes, handicapped could be otherwise impaired. However, the requiring of parking spaces in historic and older areas is something that I question in the first place. Do you have to own a car to live in this building? It’s on a bus line, two grocery stores are within 2 blocks, and- it’s near downtown. Why is a parking space required at all? What would Manhattan look like if a parking spot was required for every housing unit?
Inspector Gotcha tried to tell both my office and Pacchia- that we couldn’t open with doors that opened in. It’s this kind of stupidity that kills me.

I do get ADA. I just don’t get what happened to common sense.

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J Dziwulski March 18, 2013 at 7:50 pm

Over The Rhine (“Gateway Quarter”..the part of OTR south of Liberty) has quite a bit of support from 3CDC, the Cincy center-city redevelopment quango.  Not a good comparison with Dayton, which has next to no support from the leading corporations in the local private sector (mainly because they have left town).  3CDC is funded in part my the major corporations HQed in Cincy (P&G, Kroger, etc) and they have a very comprehensive approach to redevelopement.
Dayton has nothing like this.  No comparison.   The closets comparison was from the past; the original 1960s-era plan for the Oregon by Bertran Goldberg envisioned something akin to what 3CDC is doing..buying up the whole neighborhood and doing a big renovation block by block, but that plan failed and the Oregon was renovated piecmeal by small investors. 
 
 

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