I broke down and went to “The Greene” last night. It was a Saturday night, and the place wasn’t quite hopping, but it had more action than Downtown does except when there is a show at the Schuster, Victoria and the Loft all on one night.
My friend kept muttering “sprawl”- and I kept looking for some sign that I hadn’t been transported to some other place- something that made “The Greene” uniquely Dayton. The only thing I could find was “Books and Company” – and even that is no longer a Dayton franchise and possibly the nail joint. Everything else could have been anywhere- just like the “development” on Miller Lane (with the exception of Sake- the sushi house). Even half full on the retail side, it had a vibrancy about it- from the huge graphics on the empty spaces- to the music pumped through the lampposts.
And the question kept coming up- why couldn’t this happen in Dayton- downtown?
The answer: because City hall is run by power mad despots who believe that strict enforcement of “the rules” is what is going to keep them employed- when in fact, it’s what’s going to put the city out of business.
The Greene is a mixed use complex- with space for retail, office and housing. To try to retrofit buildings in Downtown to do that is cost prohibitive, even if they were originally built that way. Take for example the beautiful buildings of the Terra Cotta district on Fifth Street between Main and Ludlow- or the entire block of E. Third between Jefferson and St. Clair- all have apartments upstairs sitting vacant- because of zoning and building code requirements that make their reuse crazy expensive.
Requirements like expensive fire suppression systems, fireproof stairwells, parking within 250 feet of the building, elevators, handicapped access, firewalls between retail and office and residential spaces the list goes on. So, if we can’t adapt them, and can’t assemble large enough parcels for redevelopment for critical mass- they just continue to decay and go underutilized.
Even tearing them down is expensive with asbestos and other required environmental abatements- leaving corn fields much more attractive to development.
Interesting enough, The Greene has 2 parking garages and some large lots in addition to the “on-street” parking. The developer realizes that his primary audience needs easy, free parking. Has the city made any kinds of moves to create a matrix of convenient parking lots? No. The Oregon District sits one block from a large, mostly underutilized parking garage (the transportation center) yet is not allowed to count that garage towards zoning requirements.
Instead of building a proper garage behind the EPA and Ned Peppers buildings, they squandered the opportunity with a surface lot.
So, instead of filling up the remaining retail spaces, we make it a constant battle for small businesses to open in our “real” version of “the Greene.”
Things like fighting the liquor permit for the Fifth Street Wine and Deli- and the above mentioned development restrictions.
If the city wants to see development like the Greene happen within the Central Business District, we need to figure out how to bend and flex the rules to expedite mixed-use development of our authentic retail/office/residential spaces instead of making it impossible. The Cannery, largely seen as a success, was delayed several years because of bureaucratic red tape- and the office component on the second floor was killed off by it.
Somehow, if we want to compete, we need to learn to dance with the developers and create opportunities to build our authentic downtown to compete with developers Disneyland- I just hope we choose something uniquely Dayton to be piped out of all the lampposts- like Guided By Voices, Zapp, the Ohio Players, Hawthorne Heights etc.
That way, we’ll never feel like we’ve been transported to Disneyland.