On “Saving Downtown”

Obviously, with a little promotion, and a little money, it’s possible to get thousands of people downtown to enjoy the city. Twice a year, the Downtown Dayton Partnership earns their keep.

So- how do we get the “Urban Nights” feel to be every night? Here are some answers:

Have low cost activities going on. Not just the Philharmonic, DCDC, the Dayton Ballet, The Human Race Theater Company, the Victoria Theater Association- all that culture is nice, but the tickets per person are what you spend on a movie for 4 in the ‘burbs. So, bands on the street (like what was going on during Urban Nights where we caught at least 4 different musical acts- plus a magician) are a start. We also need affordable places to eat– I love Coco’s, Pacchia, Thai 9, John Henry’s- but where can you take a family? Brixx, the Dublin Pub? China Buffet and the Spaghetti Warehouse are the two lower price places that come to mind that the focus isn’t on alcohol.

And while I love the Neon- and the arty, subtitled set- we need a multi-plex showing the latest and greatest Hollywood stuff.

The Riverscape ice rink is a good draw, weather permitting- but someone forgot to provide a clearly marked parking lot. Us urbanites know where to park, but suburbanites need a clearly marked parking lot. Which brings me to the unified parking signage that is desperately needed. Also, change all on-street parking to diagonal end in– doubling the number of spaces.

Also, we’re in need of wayfinding signage throughout the city. How do we walk from Courthouse Square to the Ballpark, to the Oregon District, to Webster Station, to The Neon? Pretend you are here from another country? How would you navigate on foot? Would the maps be multi-lingual? Hmmmmm…..

Go out to the Greene, what do you hear? Music on the street- happy music- maybe we should consider piping some tunes through the lamposts too? It’s hard to get spooked when you are listening to “Don’t worry, be happy” as you are walking down the street.

Places to go, people to see. This is the hardest part. We have a lot of closed, empty, vacant storefronts (and the one pink elephant that everyone loves, the arcade). Somehow, we need to reward property owners with tax breaks for having retail operating on the first floor. That’s right, give landlords a taxbreak for ground floor occupancy– and make it worthwhile- so that even low rent, is better than no rent. Ease up on building code requirements too- requiring ADA bathrooms in every establishment is crazy- if we are talking low cost space. Have a cut-off rent per square foot that doesn’t require meeting all new codes. If it’s under $2.50 a square foot- then you can operate with the building under a grandfather clause to the codes of when it was built.

Maybe by making it so affordable to rent, we can pick up some small businesses and create excitement. Also, take the cap off liquor licenses. Make the whole of downtown an “entertainment district” with low price liquor licenses.  Maybe we can have music and bands and poetry readings and listening rooms on every corner.

Bring the street lights closer to the sidewalk. That’s right, don’t worry so much about bright streets, worry about bright sidewalks. Cars have headlights- people don’t. Encourage businesses to light the sidewalks from the buildings. Require all parking lots to be lit at night and to light the sidewalks or face a higher tax rate.

New street furniture. How about bus stops that actually protect you from the wind and rain? How about sell ads on them? Novel idea- done in every other major city.  Ads at street level make it EASIER to promote downtown businesses to people downtown (imagine that)- and we can have unified newspaper boxes with ads on them, and collect rent from the papers- instead of having 20 boxes chained together looking like a scrap metal convention. How about seating on Main Street? We’ve got those monster wide sidewalks? Nice tables and benches, so what if “street people” sit there- they’re people too. Plant flowers, hang flowers, make it look like a promenade, instead of a street to move cars. Monument along Riverscape should give you a hint, if you can’t visualize it.

Circulator routes. During Urban Nights we had shuttles, why shouldn’t we during the week? Hmmmm. This is where light rail is the holy grail, but until then, make the Wright Flyers free, and send them on a loop, described by the wayfinding and the new street furniture with ads- to get you from attraction to attraction.

Open the Sinclair campus to commerce. Sinclair stands like an island. There is a story that Mr. Beerman had a stipulation that there be no retail on Sinclair’s campus to make sure his store didn’t suffer. True or not true, how do you have 18,000 students come down- and not have a bar or McDonalds in sight? Something ain’t right. And those big parking garages- open them to the general public too- as part of the unified parking plan. No more excuses about where to park- ever.

The Arcade- the last element. Sorry folks- there isn’t an answer that we can afford to solve this. The space isn’t going to work as a mall- and yes, the housing part could be pulled off- but the center part is a mess. The only real answer is gambling. Open a casino in the arcade and all your problems go away. Now, if we can just find the right Indian tribe to take it over. If we can have a lottery, bingo and horse racing, why in earth can’t we have a casino in the center of a city? Putting casinos on riverboats is the most retarded solution to a puritanically imposed self-immolation I’ve ever seen.  People will gamble somewhere- and it’s high time we wake up and let it flourish in a place that would be a national draw. If you don’t like it- don’t go.

The last answer to keeping downtown healthy- is to expand the boundaries to include other parts of what anyone else would call downtown- Miami Valley Hospital, University of Dayton, the Dayton Art Institute and Grandview. Voila- more employees, and growth. The reality is- by our current definition of Downtown, Fifth Third field isn’t even part of the equation- so- time to move the fences- and then try to take a swing at them.

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23 Comments on "On “Saving Downtown”"

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S. Michael

Thank you Esrati! Just last night after checking out The Circus and the Taste of the Miami Valley, a friend and I were talking about the Arcade and its future. Both of us simultaneously agreed that GAMBLING would be GOOD! Your line about “puritanically imposed self-immolation” is one to remember. I think we’re on the front lines of taking back our city from the bottom up without even knowing it. Keep going for the love of Dayton!


I think we all know gambling won’t be coming anytime soon. There have been repeated referendums on gambling in Ohio and they have been defeated every time.

David Esrati
David Esrati

Every referendum on gambling has been tainted by being brought forward by the horse racing industry in an attempt to line their pockets.
If a referendum came out that was giving a fair shot to everyone- it may be a different matter.

Greg Hunter
Greg Hunter


Somebody always gets their pockets lined. The lottery is the worst bet in the world and the state runs that game. Instead you want to bring a tribe in – OY! Where does that money go!? No tax and little accountability. The horse racing proposal would have put a great deal of dollars into the hands of numerous groups including those that breed horses, grow hay and by conclusion maintain a diversified farm economy. Horse Racing tied to slots have meant a great deal to the farming operations in Canada and West Virginia.

David Esrati
David Esrati

Greg, I was kidding about the Indian tribe. I think a regulated casino, run by professional gambling concerns- out of Vegas or NJ- based on a license to the highest bidder.
Would require complete and total renovation of the Arcade and employment guarantees. Horses breed just fine on their own without horse racing- trust me.
And horse racing has little to do with farming- get a grip man.

Greg Hunter
Greg Hunter

And horse racing has little to do with farming- get a grip man.

Patently false. Site your stats, because you know nothing about horses or the connection to labor or farming One example

Alabama Stats


David, not every casino proposal was from the horse racing industry. The first one I recall was put forward by Lorain city govt, and was to permit gambling in other industrially distressed citys in the state (a limited casino bill). Lorains idea was to put a casino in an old shipyard site on the Black River near their downtown….sort of pleasure boat harbor combined with waterfront casion and hotel/condo thing, If I recall correctly. Lorain didnt want a “private bill”, so structured their proposal as something that would help other distressed citys like Youngstown and Steubenville and Lima and so forth.


As for downtown Dayton, this is what Citywide Development proposes, based on their “CitiPlan 2020 Focus 2010 and Beyond, Economic Development Component” (2007) (this report is dated 6/26/2007):

“ New Product and Resue. Create new building product that is more aligned with the demands of today’s marketplace by providing:

* large horizontal floor plates

* close in parking and other amenities.

Find reuses for ore obsolete office buildings that can be transformed into non-traditional re-uses” Downtown Office Space….Work with community partners to develop strategic shovel-ready sites for potential development”.

Note that “shovel ready” means the site has been cleared of structures and hazmat and is ready to go. What is being proposed….large floor plates and adjacent parking and shovel ready sites…is a suburban style office park concept. Similar to what Kettering has done with the old Hills & Dales site, or what UD is doing with the NCR site.

David Esrati
David Esrati

The first one was run by Mr. Spitzer who ran a car dealership if I remember right. It still was a “boat” solution- again, why?
As always- I’m fascinated to what people glom on to. A whole list of ideas- and the only one we’re talking about is gambling.
Maybe that’s how the Republicans got GWB elected- attach the campaign to one hot-button issue and everyone goes down the same path.


Well, gambling is the least realistic of all your ideas, given the cultural conservatism in Ohio. You have already posted and we have already commented on some of your other ideas.

But I did like this:

“Sorry folks- there isn’t an answer that we can afford to solve this.”

I think reality is going to eventually set in around the Arcade, that there isn’t enough economic or political capacity …or creativity….in the Dayton region to save those buildings.

Brother Omi

you are so right. i am a new comer to dayton. downtown is lacking in so much. I have only seen one other downtown that had so many empty and closed businesses (that was 15 years ago in Norfolk, VA).

i need more signs to tell me where i am going

scc, a sprawling huge campus with no businesses surrounding it (just that student center right in the middle)

Rick R

Many of us have warm memories of the Arcade and McRory’s lunch counter, but it’s time to look in the closet at the shirts we haven’t worn in twenty years and do the appropriate thing… move the Arcade rotundra and build a fifteen story parking garage on the space it now occupies.

Move being the key word, if there is no local interest in placing the Arcade rotundra on another property in the ‘expanded’ Downtown Dayton area then lets put it on ebay before the wrecking ball comes for it.

The parking garage? Yes, much as I hate the vision, in order to compete with the malls Dayton will need a parking garage smack in the middle of downtown.


The Arcade is overated. Downtown was still boring that night – even though I love downtown. Gambling is always the best option, but will never happen.

The Arcade is NOT the answer for downtown. It is dated, and renovation could happen, but it still would not be even close to enough. Dayton should focus on education, the arts, and its lack of shopping/dining. I know someone will say the Arcade could be this, but that ship had sailed.

Sports are important. Hockey downtown? Baseball is fun, and generally works well. A big movie theatre would help. More bars…….always a good option. Daivd has many ideas, but we need an anchor – maybe just attracting more DAY business, but no one wants to rent the spaces out at reasonable rates. I have looked at space, and often they are not good option for most businesses.

I do like ANY transportaion/parking help. People in Dayton, and most places, are lazy. If you want their money, they want to park close or get a free ride.

Rick R

When i lived in Fort Lauderdale there was a huge municipal parking garage at Broward and Andrews (Third and Main) with parking meters at every parking space. A person could park there for fifty cents and walk a few blocks to where they need to be with two hours on the meter.

Much as I like the idea of utilizing Sinclair’s parking after hours it is not conviently located.

Rick R

Oh, and in downtown Fort Lauderdale twenty percent of the available land wasn’t asphalt parking…

David Esrati
David Esrati

Since the Arcade closed- the County built the new Reibold building parking garage- of course- it’s closed at night :-)
There is also room to build a new garage over behind the abandoned Dayton Daily News – that could also serve the Arcade-
a few skywalks here and there- and there is plenty of parking- for the arcade- if you only signed it well and had set, reasonable consistent rates.


What did y’all think of the Sideshow?

Phillip Ranly

Call me crazy but I think there’s more than enough parking in the downtown area. It’s just a matter of making it better known (add it to your wayfinding signage throughout downtown).


Also, skywalks? Why provide an easy way to kill streetlife? In some circumstances they are appropriate but that’s rare. The point is to get people on the streets, not in tubes high above where all the action should be. Otherwise, some pretty good thoughts on here.

David Esrati
David Esrati

Hi Kate- Sideshow was most excellent- I WANT that Godzilla head…
but- more to the point- that’s an example of utilization of retail space- without worrying about zoning, building codes- etc- as in some use is better than no use.

And- as to the Skywalks Phillip- yes, you are correct – however- try this in a wheelchair-
in the dead of winter- not everyone can access the sidewalks easily.
Also- to create a way that office workers can move around downtown without having to “dress” for the weather-

J.R. Locke

I also think there is plenty of parking downtown but if the need to build a parking garage is real why tear down the arcade when there is all that room on monument street to the east by the stadium? I don’t know who’s land that is but that looks like a pretty logical area for a parking garage.

The signage is much needed and a way to link let’s say Canal Street Tavern/Southern Belle and the Oregon District would be a fairly good idea. Not too mention some of the other joints up into main.

Gene if you want to share any knowledge of the pricing for downtown renting spaces I would appreciate it. [email protected]


The Sideshow:

I didn’t see the urban nights version of it as I spent the entire night walking people through the Arcade, but I did see the Saturday version. I posted my thoughts on it over at Daytonology and a pix thread over at Urban Ohio.


Also, Esrati is again correct about the parking site for the Arcade block (the whole block, not just the Arcade buildings) being the old DDN site. Most of that half block is a lot, and most of whats left (the 1950s DDN building and press plant) could be torn down up to Ludlow and the entire site (except for that corner older DDN building–which would be a good law office– and the Moraine Apartments) turned into a big garage.

This would be parking for people living in the Moraine, for residents of a renovated Arcade and maybe a renovated Lindsey Building, and for vistors and people doing buisiness in the Arcade, Kuhns, and McCrory Buildings, and with the county in the Reibold Building.

As for pay, you could do what Sacramento did with its downtown shopping center parking garage…have it free on weekends.

John Ise

Good posts here. I agree with Phillip that thre is ample parking and skyways come to the detriment of downtown, rather than contribute to the vitality. But whatever silver bullet scenario posted here whether a casino or a parking lot (?), there’s no substiute for good, solid basic services. Crummy schools (that lead to ever-increasing poverty concentrations and the flight of families with children who have the economic means), crime (or the wild perception of perpetuated by TV media), and just overall the trashy appearance (broken glass and garbage blowing about)trump any single “solution” to “save Dayton or downtown. But good ideas nonetheless.

David Esrati
David Esrati

I can assure you there is no broken glass or trash flying about downtown- different story in the neighborhoods.
The schools need fixed- but that isn’t the crux of downtowns problems.
I was only addressing solutions for Downtown in this post.