How does downtown Dayton hope to compete?

On Friday I went to the annual meeting of the extra-tax to save downtown organization- I mean the Downtown Dayton Partnership presentation of the update on the “Downtown Dayton Plan.”

It seems the last year has been spent quietly raising $3.8 million for the paddle boat run- and not much else. Now, it’s up to the little people to kick in $200,000 to complete the fundraising to remove the low dams that were built to create the “waterfront” on a former save-downtown plan. Yep, paddling our way to a vibrant downtown with huge economic impact, yawn.

And btw, we’re happy to report that people from NYC keep buying our real estate for pennies on the dollar, despite the fact that employers are moving out faster than those investors can drop the prices to keep them.

The Soin international building on W. 1st Street sold for a whopping $122,000, including a parking garage (which was promptly sold off for $22K to Paul Hutchins of PMI). That’s real estate that was on the tax rolls for over a million dollars. The Kettering tower, once valued at $30 million or so, was bought for a third of that- cash. The DDP is talking kayaks and canoes.

What’s the problem with downtown? Well, besides the fact that people like Randy Gunlock with RG Properties and Bob Mills of Mills Development/Synergy Building Systems are throwing up office space with free parking in income-tax=free places like Beavercreek and Miami Township- right on highway exits- and the Greene is still sitting with plenty of office space available- complete with free parking and lots of restaurants and shopping opportunities- well- nothing.

Downtown buildings are great monuments to a city that has failed to recognize that we live in a free market society and you can only get away with charging a premium income tax for so long- if you don’t provide a premium experience to match. Now, I’m not one to say it’s all because of the income tax that we saw Mead build what would become LexisNexis in Miamisburg, or Reynolds and Reynolds bail out to Kettering, or Woolpert to Beavercreek, or the Greene be built in Beavercreek, or Teradata to Miami Township or NCR to Georgia etc… but, do you see a trend here?

And at Austin Landing- it’s still tax free to the rich people- but, the clerks at Kohl’s and the burger flippers at Five Guys- will be paying 2.25% due to the magic of Mr. Gunlock and his amazing mastery of local government officials to keep giving him tax breaks and deals.

It’s time Dayton learned to play dirty. If we want to see any of these new investors compete- we’re going to have to play the same kind of game- but, maybe we should do it smart. We need to realize that parking is a major problem for a 27 floor tower. Charging $90 a month to rent a parking space for each employee gets expensive. So, why don’t we get creative and try to incentivize people who can walk to work in their downtown office buildings? If you make less than $44,000 a year (what the Mayor makes for his part-time job) and live and work in the central business district you pay no income tax. Do the same and make between $44K and $100k pay 1.25% This way- we can start rewarding people who don’t waste our high dollar land using up parking spaces.

With Premier Health Partners about to bring another 1,000 people to the corner of 2nd and Main- getting people not to drive into downtown will make it easier for those who have to come down to visit.

We also need to help developers create more housing opportunities for these workers. Since we don’t seem to adjust property tax values based on purchase price- we need to find another way to incentivize transforming parts or all of downtown real estate over to residential. The simple way would be to value property at the purchase price and allow total tax abatement for a value equal to the investment made in switching the old buildings to have at least 20% residential in every building.

The last two critical pieces are we have to get some sort of downtown grocery- Trader Joe’s, Dorothy Lane Market, Whole Foods, Earth Fare or even Kroger’s or a food co-op is critical. The second is adding bike share to downtown so residents can easily move from Sinclair to the Oregon District to Riverscape and the Cannery – tie in UD too and we start having a powerful downtown pedestrian/bike friendly community where it is possible to live like a New Yorker without a real public transit system- and without the high rents.

Only when we can get people to think about living without a car- will downtown really start to thrive. Because after housing expenses, a car and medical are the second biggest expenses people have to deal with.

With our vibrant arts community, a beautiful waterfront (with or without paddle boats and giant fountains) and a compact core- we could easily start looking attractive to some NYC offices looking to move back office people into a lower overhead.

That’s when Downtown Dayton starts to be able to compete.

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