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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