Let there be light. A video about Dayton’s misplaced priorities

First there was CityWide development- a quasi-government organization that sucked up tax dollars to fix up a house here or there. 30 years later, it’s a fricking bank, building spec buildings that it rents for sub-market rates and hurts local property owners who try to compete. This is the worst of governement.

We don’t vote on who runs CityWide, we barely pay attention to it. And we’ve never asked for our money back- because, well, it’s supposed to come back as the “vibrancy factor”- as in, if we fake looking successful, we’ll be successful. You know people like this- it’s called “fake it till you make it” and if you don’t “make it” – at least you look good doing it.

Then we added the Downtown Dayton Partnership. At first we paid a snake oil salesman a ton of money to “revitalize downtown”- until he ran out of town on a rail, and we started using it as a place to park people we liked and wanted to pay well with no real oversight. We even passed an extra tax levy to fund them. Their major contribution 15 years later- they hire a company from out of town (out of state really) to pay people minimum wage to be “ambassadors” (a fancy name for street sweepers) to keep downtown clean. Their big twice a year parties- Urban Nights, are done with- after mobs of kids of the wrong color decided to come en masse.

Next up, the Port Authority. What’s this? They build buildings for rich private companies, but don’t have to pay property taxes on them, because “we” own them. The idea is, we get income tax from them, so it’s all ok. Can’t give the money to the Dayton Public Schools, because they, well, suck, but- we can give money to city government, because, they do such a great job (at getting themselves and their friends re-elected).

Throw in the Dayton Development Coalition for good measure. They take care of our Congressman (and they used to take care of his now X-wife- remember “Get Midwest”)- because, well, he makes money come back to the companies we built the buildings for that don’t have to pay taxes. You shouldn’t pay attention to these people either- but if you’re wondering why Wright State is in a bunch of trouble, look to former Port Authority and Dayton Development Coalition “leaders” who are right in the middle of it.

So now, we’re supposed to raise the already high Dayton City Income tax to 2.5% because a bunch of the people who either get handouts from government, don’t pay taxes, or have been buying the people in power off for a long time, put a few hundred thousand into a campaign to tell you that you need ANOTHER quasi-government slush fund to pay for pre-school for all.

Let’s be clear. All of Dayton’s eligible four year olds is about 1,500 kids each year. That’s about 1 % of the population. But, Dayton Public Schools, a public system, with lots of oversight, already provides FREE pre-school that’s “5 star rated” to about 400 students and isn’t at capacity. If they had some more money, they could provide transportation which would boost their numbers.

But, no- along comes Dr. Tom Lasley, with his “Learn to Earn” program. He thinks that if he gets every kid into pre-schools, even if they are run by someone in a house, and are “three star” or more, he’ll dramatically change the educational outcomes of Dayton Public Schools.

This is hooey. No amount of pre-school preparation are going to solve the fundamental problems facing Dayton kids. Hunger, homelessness, drug addiction, parents incarcerated, pre-school doesn’t fix that. “Learn to Earn” is a phrase I personally find revolting. I learn because I love learning. To me knowledge and education are a form of worship. It’s how we evolve. It’s not how we earn. This phrase, when applied to our community that is disadvantaged in so many ways, reminds me of “Work sets you free” which was what the Nazi’s put on the gates of hell. I don’t make that comparison lightly.

The four to five million that we will donate to “Learn to Earn” may provide pre-school to another 500 students- but the real bonus is to the staff – including Dr. Lasley, who will spend 20% of it on paying themselves and for overhead. Next up is all the pre-schools that will now be able to get public money for day care- for anyone- not even poor kids, who are already covered by Title 20 money. That’s right, if you live in Dayton, and make $200,000 a year, you can have “Learn to Earn” pay for your child care while you work third shift at Miami Valley Hospital. They didn’t tell you that part.

Of course, Issue 9 is also going to pay for more cops. Let’s talk about “more cops.” Dayton used to have a force of over 500. We are at near our lowest staffing levels ever. But, there are probably 600 cops in Dayton now- the problem is they work for the people who are giving money to this campaign. The hospitals all have private police forces, the universities all have private police forces, MetroParks has a private police force. They don’t answer to anyone. Need a clue how this works Dayton? Ask Samuel Dubose. Any more questions?

And while a small business can’t get their parking lot access restored on North Main Street- because “there is no money available,” the City of Dayton has money for buying back the hole in the ground on Ludlow. And, we always have tax abatement plans for companies where the CEO’s annual salary has two commas in it. GE, CareSource, Emerson, Premier Health etc.

If we were going to raise taxes and wanted to improve our neighborhoods, and do something for all of Dayton- we could invest in free wifi city wide. All of the 15,000 Dayton Public School students will have their own computer next year- but many don’t have internet access anywhere but school. Bridge the digital divide with that money and you open the flood gates to online, self-guided learning for 15,000 kids- instead of preschool for 1500- and guess what, we can even let the taxpayers use it too.

Believe it or not, the United Nations Human Rights Commission declared internet access a fundamental human right back in 2011. No one declared preschool one.

Watch the video. Share the post. Vote no on issue 9.

We can raise taxes when it’s actually for the people, by the people, not another sell out to private enterprise.

The hole on Ludlow Street

Photo by David Esrati of the demolition of the Dayton Daily News building 1923 addition

The day after demolition was allowed to continue

Last week the Dayton Daily news had the sad, sad story of poor Steve Rauch who didn’t get paid for tearing down a perfectly good historic building. No mention of performance bonds- which is the norm for projects like this:

The company that demolished parts of the historic Dayton Daily News building at 45 S. Ludlow St. has sued Student Suites Dayton LLC for allegedly not paying its nearly $800,000 bill.

The civil lawsuit filed Thursday in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court by Steve Rauch Inc. seeks financial damages and a foreclosure on the mechanic’s Lien against Student Suites Dayton (SSD), which originally planned to build a 350-unit, $18 million housing complex that could serve Sinclair Community College students.

Steve Rauch told this newspaper last week that he stopped working on the project when the billing cost for his work hit $869,000 and he still hadn’t been paid.A demolition contract between Student Suites Dayton LLC and Steve R. Rauch Inc. specifies a payment of $1.292 million. Rauch said he stopped working on the project because he hadn’t been paid.

“What a mess that place is down there, isn’t it?” he said. “I’ve liened it — against Student Suites. They haven’t paid me a dime.”

Rauch said he initially held off on filing a lawsuit, hoping to get paid as the project moves forward. “We are not the bad guy that put a bullet in the deal,” he said.

Through an email, Student Suites Dayton declined to comment.The suit alleged Rauch performed all demolition of the former Dayton Daily News and Schwind buildings, and related services. The cost, $775,195, has been due since Jan. 21, 2014, the lawsuit alleges. Interest of 10 percent per annum on the principal has been accruing since then, according to the suit.

Rauch’s attorney, Gregory Page, said the total owed, including interest, is more than $900,000.

“Based on SSD’s ongoing refusal to pay the sums due and owing, Rauch caused multiple affidavits for mechanic’s lien to be recorded against the property,” the suit alleges. “SSD’s actions, including, but not limited to, its failure or refusal to pay the sums due to Rauch, constitute a breach of contract.

”Besides compensatory damages and pre- and post-judgment interest of 10 percent, Rauch seeks attorney fees and costs, and for a judgment ordering the property to be foreclosed and sold. He is also asking that the plaintiff’s liens be paid from the proceeds of the sale.

The city of Dayton, which originally committed $1 million toward the project, increased that to $1.215 million in April 2014. The city’s share went toward demolition and cleanup of the former Schwind Building property.

Aaron Sorrell, Dayton’s director of planning and community development, said at the time that the money was from additional grants, not city general funds.

Complications arose over the Schwind Building, which was demolished in 2013.

A deed restriction imposed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development limited use of the property to low-income housing, and the Students Suites project did not qualify.

Sorrell also said then that the Student Suites project was delayed because the developer could not obtain financing for it as a result of the deed restriction.

The plan to rejuvenate the area for housing while leaving the original Dayton Daily News “bank” building — which is on the National Register of Historic Places — was announced in April 2013.

Source: Ludlow housing project halted

Considering that Rauch also “mistakenly” tore down a part of the historic part of the Dayton Daily news building that was supposed to stay, the developer could counter-sue, that Rauch damaged the viability of the project. Of course, the fact that Student Suites probably asked him to do it by “accident” won’t come out until the gloves come off in the courtroom.

Normally, in order to do demolition of any sort- there is a required performance bond- so as to make sure the job gets completed. Someone in City Hall should be getting fired over this, but since that someone is either Aaron Sorrell, or Acting City Manager Shelley Dickstein, no one is saying anything. After all, they engineered this cluster-duck.

Of course, I did a FOIA request on who got paid what by the city. I’m not a full time journalist, but lucky for us, the Dayton Daily news hasn’t fired Steve Bennish- their last remaining reporter with a brain, and he’s coming out with a long piece in tomorrow’s paper (available online this morning).

What bothers me, is that his answers from City Hall don’t match the ones I got.

Here is my request- and my follow up- with their answers:

From: David Esrati
Sent: Monday, October 26, 2015, 10:27 a.m.
To: Bankston, Toni
Subject: FOIA request-

Toni,
I talked to Stan Early about this on Sat. morning-
I want to find out the status of:
“The city of Dayton, which originally committed $1 million toward the project, increased that to $1.215 million in April 2014. The city’s share went toward demolition and cleanup of the former Schwind Building property.
Aaron Sorrell, Dayton’s director of planning and community development, said at the time that the money was from additional grants, not city general funds.”

Were the funds released? To whom? Whom were they supposed to go to?

Thank you

Her response:

On Oct 28, 2015, at 12:10, Freeman, Angela wrote:

Mr. Esrati:

Please be advised that the funds came from the Moving Ohio Forward Grant, which was used to demolish vacant and foreclosed properties.  We expended a total of $183,591.37.  The funds went to Student Suites to finish the demolition of the Schwind Building.

Angela Freeman | Executive Secretary | City of Dayton | Office of Public Affairs |

Hmmm, only $183.5K- to Student Suites.

So, they committed 1.2 million- but only release 182.5K something didn’t sound right.

Try again:

From: David Esrati
Sent: Wednesday, October 28, 2015, 1:24 p.m.
To: Freeman, Angela
Cc: Bankston, Toni
Subject: Re: FOIA request-

So the million was never released?

And a response:

From: Freeman, Angela
10/28/15, 2:37 p.m.
To: David Esrati

In total, $938,591 was expended directly to Student Suites, under our development agreement.  Of that, $183,591.37 was an amendment utilizing MOF funds.  The larger, original balance was from the Development fund and was $755,000.00.

Other expenditures from the City were:

$220,000 to CityWide

$25,000 to Schwind Building Restoration Project

Who was the “Schwind Building Restoration Project” that got $25K and what did the taxpayers get back?

Who is asking about what CityWide did with almost a quarter of a million? And why aren’t they liable for the hole in the ground?

Why didn’t the city sue Student Suites- who got $183.5K and left us with a hole in the ground?

You think these questions would be answered in the Dayton Daily news piece coming tomorrow from Steve Bennish? But, no.

The best line in Bennish’s piece:

The city of Dayton, which owned the former Schwind building next door and agreed to have it demolished despite a deed restriction and lien on the property, now admits that was a mistake.

Source: Funding problems, legal woes stall downtown Dayton project | www.mydaytondailynews.com

 Because the city allowed a project to be rushed through, before financing was arranged and a development contract in place- the historic Cox building is now sitting rotting.
From the DDn:

A breakdown of city of Dayton expenditures also shows the city has spent $938,591 on the project. That doesn’t include $420,000 the city spent to pay off liens on the Schwind building, which has been torn down.

More city spending could follow. Dayton Interim City Manager Shelly Dickstein is concerned that another round of winter weather could damage the historic former newspaper building.

“We’ve looked at the cost to fill the hole so it’s not sitting there blighting the community and so that the building could be buttoned up and not exposed,” Dickstein said.

Rauch estimates the cost to finish the demolition would be $500,000 — to remove basement walls and fill in holes.

So now the demolition costs are up to $1.75 million.

The crazy part- this exceeds the cost projections former local developer Bill Rain had estimated to turn the Schwind into housing for students and still comply with the HUD restriction, but the city wouldn’t offer to help at all, finally forcing him out of the deal which he was given hope on by his “friend” Steve Budd at CityWide. Rain was going to use the DDn building as first floor retail and convert the upper floors of the very solid building into parking for the project. The historic Cox building- would have been adapted use as well.

However, local “power brokers” weren’t paid off, and Rain left for Tampa, where he’s done a series of much larger projects, including the conversion and adaptive reuse of a hospital into a long-term care and assisted living facility. (Full disclosure, Rain is a friend, and a client, I visited the hospital project several times and saw first hand what he did. I also witnessed his work on the St. Clair Lofts and Ice Avenue Lofts in Dayton).

The DDn even admits that they were all excited about these out of town hucksters with their no-money down deal:

The stalled state of the project is a stark contrast to the excitement that accompanied the original announcement from Cox Media Group that “a preliminary plan has been agreed upon for the sale and revitalization of the vacant historic Dayton Daily News building and adjacent property.”

“In addition to the sale of the historic Dayton Daily News’ building and property, Cox Media Group Ohio is contributing $1 million to restore and protect the legacy of the historic building,” the April 2013 announcement said.

The Cox people were most excited, but won’t say this- to get out of the property taxes on their empty building (they also demolished Channel 7 asap to avoid paying property taxes) and to not have to pay the Special Improvement District tax that supports the Downtown Dayton Partnership.

Bennish does manage to get this gem into the story:

In the 2013 announcement, CMGO (Cox Media Group Ohio) said it had been working with the city of Dayton, Student Suites and a California-based nonprofit, United Housing and Community Services Corporation, to finalize a plan to build an $18 million multi-purpose complex on the property. Sinclair was not involved, but once the project was completed its students would have access to housing just a short walk from their classes.

United Housing would own the project “once it was leased up,” said Sorrell.

Attempts to reach United Housing were unsuccessful and there was no listing for the non-profit in a statewide telephone directory.

In a bond document on file with the city of Dayton, United Housing was listed as the borrower of the proceeds of the bonds issued by the port authority.

Student Suites, the document said, “gathers a team of architects, local contractors and financial experts to provide a completely finished project.”

Note the part about “bonds issued by the port authority”- yet earlier in the article Jerry Brunswick (withdrawn school board candidate), the current straw man in front of the Port Authority (another organization that screws up public money with little oversight):

Jerry Brunswick, president of the Dayton-Montgomery County Port Authority, said in the early stages of the project the plan was for the authority to issue tax-exempt bonds to finance up to $15 million. The bonds would be sold through an investment banker.

“I never heard that the (bankers’) investment committee approved it,” Brunswick said. “And we asked. We were told they never approved it. If there was a lien in front of the property, it would certainly impede a positive credit decision.”

He added: “A lien in front of you is not a great way to sell a project. The project still makes sense. We’d like to issue the bonds and we have a new program that can be a part of this.”

Uh, if it had a lien on it then, and now it has a lawsuit and an unfinished hole, I’d say this deal is dead.

Bennish briefly covered the buildings’ history- but, that back story is full of the institutional knowledge that is needed to really understand how we got to where we were today.

With the long-shuttered Arcade across the street, the Student Suites project was seen as a ray of hope for that part of downtown and possibly a catalyst for future development. Then came a snag.

A major legal hurdle involved the deed restriction and lien on the Schwind building, which was imploded as part of the development plan. HUD had imposed the restriction after funding a previous owner’s plan to put low-income housing there.

Records show the Schwind had a rough history. The city originally acquired the building from HUD in 2003 after the owner defaulted on a HUD-insured mortgage. The city transferred the building to Rain & Associates in July 2004, but the building then went into foreclosure and was sold in 2007 through a foreclosure sale to the Schwind Building Restoration Project. The city re-acquired the building in August 2013 as part of the Student Suites project.

The “snag” was fully known and ignored by the city and by Student Suites. This is what we normal working stiffs call incompetence. That Dickstein failed the Wayne Avenue Kroger – with no contract with a tenant before expending over $4 million to aggregate a 12 acre parcel, using multiple rounds of real estate options, blighting the neighborhood wholesale, and spending enormous sums on appraisals, and negotiations should have been the end of her and Sorrell.

Bennish didn’t talk to Rain. The Schwind Building Restoration Project was when Bob Schiffler took over the project. Schiffler had successfully and beautifully done the old Chemineer building at the corner of Fourth and Main- but, soon after they transferred the property to him- PNC took over our beloved local lender, National City Bank- and called his notes- forcing him to sell his beautiful mansion on Oakwood avenue and regroup. The Schwind was ancillary damage.

The education of Aaron Sorrell and Shelley Dickstein at taxpayer expense is getting expensive. Bennish gets this beautiful piece in:

Sorrell acknowledges that the lien and deed restriction were raised by Student Suites as a hurdle to financing, but he said the developer redesigned the project to make the Schwind site part of a second phase that would kick in when the lien was removed.

“We’ll take responsibility for the HUD lien,” Sorrell said. “But the developer has struggled to find financing.”

Dickstein too acknowledged that the city made mistakes. “Looking in the rear view mirror, the project moved forward without financing in place,” she said. “In hindsight, we would change things.”

Maybe the reason the developer has trouble finding financing is because it’s really hard to do much in Dayton or even Montgomery County, due to it having the second highest tax burden in the state? Add to that, the additional tax to support the Downtown Dayton Partnership which gets away with no blame on this mess. Lenders aren’t bullish on doing any renovations in Dayton- or the use of Historic Tax credits to finance them- not a single one has worked since the Cannery- and that went into foreclosure as well- despite a very high rental occupancy rate. (Rain was one of the initial developers in that project- but left early when it was pretty clear that his partners, Beth Duke and Dave Williams had a different vision. Williams, by the way, after flopping a big project in Clayton, got hired by CityWide).

Before he died, Alan Rinzler once told me that he owned the only building in the central business district (the Talbot Tower) that hadn’t been foreclosed on). This is how damaged the Downtown real estate market is.

Considering the city has been going to town issuing tickets to home owners in South Park for peeling paint (I completed painting 3 of my houses this summer)  it’s crazy that this boondoggle hasn’t brought the wrath of Nan onto someone (I’m pretty sure my neighbors are paying for my sins).

A contract between Student Suites and the city required Student Suites to provide the city “with a fully executed copy of a payment and performance bond issued by a surety authorized to do business in Ohio and acceptable to the city … which bond will guarantee completion of the developer’s obligations under this agreement and payment in full of all contractors, material suppliers and others who contribute to the design and construction of the project.”

Student Suites has not provided proof of the performance bond, Sorrell said, although it did pay to insure the demolition activities.

The city’s Housing Inspection Division last year issued a violation to Students Suites ordering the LLC to remove trash and debris from the area. The city says there was no response to the order, which was sent by registered mail to Student Suites’ Independence, Mo., offices.

Whoa, wait- the demolition permit was issued before the proof of performance bond was filed on a project this big? And Sorrell still has a job?

The final chilling end to Bennish’s piece, suggest more of our tax dollars will go to prop up this clusterduck:

Dayton officials are now working to see how they can at least secure the building from the weather before winter arrives.

“We are very concerned about getting it done in the next month or so,” Dickstein said. “With the freeze and rain there is exposure on the historic building. It’s an important project and we want to see it be successful.”

If no one comes to the table, Dickstein said, “We will explore our abilities to move forward with enforcement action on the historic building and move forward to preserve the building and remove the blight and fill in the hole in the ground.”

A good start would be firing Sorrell and Dickstein, and then liquidating CityWide Development to pay for the fixes, and then dismantle the Downtown Dayton Partnership and start returning the tax to the property owners. Those who want the common area maintenance performed by the “Ambassadors” (minimum wage workers in green shirts hired by an out-of-state firm)  can band together to hire their own street sweepers.

Then, maybe, we can learn to leave the development to the private sector and concentrate on providing basic city services like plowing snow and collecting leaves, and hanging basketball nets on city courts.

Uh, no. You still don’t get “economic development” Dayton

Earth to dumbasses the geniuses on the Dayton City Commission, sorry, too little too late.

Sure, your brilliant idea to turn the temporary tax hike into a permanent one seemed like such a brilliant idea- as you watch the last of your victims of taxation without representation move to the tax-free haven of 2nd story jobs at Austin Landing (only the little people on the first floor pay income taxes there).

It wasn’t just the 2.25% income tax, or the fact that they have to pay to park, but, then you had to add a Special Improvement Tax to pay for the “Downtown Dayton Partnership” which hires a Kentucky company to do what building owners used to do for themselves, and cities used to do as part of the general tax. Oh, yes, and then there was the issue of the kids running the streets- during “Urban Fights” – I mean, “Urban Nights” and the general issues around the bus hub. Oh, and, the fact that you let the feds shut down almost every downtown exit on 75 for years- forcing detours and slowdowns to get to downtown- while Austin Landing has that ridonkulously overpriced new exit. You know- the one you tacitly approved of in your “partnership” with ED/GE- another tax funded slush fund that takes hard-working taxpayers’ money and gives it to private corporations- or “invests it” to help out the rich and powerful.

Here’s the “story” from the Dayton Daily news:

While residential real estate in downtown Dayton booms, there is a different tale with commercial development, as entire high-rises remain vacant and workers continue an exodus to suburban office plazas.

Now, after years of losing downtown jobs, the city of Dayton has a new strategy for fighting back.

The Dayton City Commission last week approved a sweeping change to its existing ordinances on property tax breaks in the downtown district that — for the first time — will make incentives available to proposed commercial/office and industrial developments. Those breaks could be 25 percent or higher.

The city will negotiate the breaks with the developer along with the Dayton School Board, which must be consulted by law. The breaks will be allowed in other Community Reinvestment Act areas in the city as well….

Said Mayor Nan Whaley: “We need these tools to be aggressive in attracting business to downtown.”…

Also part of the city’s changes:

Source: New strategy: Commercial developers to get tax breaks

How about this instead:

  • Stop all tax dollar incentive for private businesses that aren’t available universally for job creation- i.e., no single company benefits. Either you meet the payroll criteria or not. This would be countywide.
  • Eliminate all tax-free zones in the county. Flatten the income tax rate to 1.5% on all wages above $24,000 per year per person. Distribute it to each jurisdiction based on numbers of people according to the latest census. No more overhead for small business in trying to figure out payroll per employee per location worked per tax rate.
  • Eliminate any tax support for outside organizations involved with “economic development” forcing all tax dollars to go to actual public services. End support of CityWide Development, The Downtown Dayton Partnership, ED/GE, the Dayton Development Coalition, the I-75 whatever you call it, and even MVRPC. Tax dollars go to projects for taxpayers- cut out middlemen, cut out slush funds, and eliminate overhead.
  • Put a moratorium on new construction unless you buy and demolish an equal number of units/square feet in the county. Get double construction credit for rehab/restore/repurpose of any structure over 50 years old.
  • Until we’re back to pumping at 80% capacity- give away water to large business users in exchange for jobs and investment. The costs of flooding basements is higher.
  • Grant tax breaks for people who work downtown and live downtown to eliminate parking problems. Grant them a break on the first $50,000 of income.

That’s how you can begin to address your problems. Cutting funding for schools is the absolute LAST thing Dayton needs to do right now, that is if you don’t want to see an exodus of the last remaining victims of your bad stewardship of Dayton and its resources for the last 50 years.

 

Tax dollars chasing tax dollars for no tax dollars

If the headline sounds stupid, think about this:

The Dayton-Montgomery County Port Authority owes $1.1 million in back taxes on the parking garage on Patterson Boulevard next to the CareSource building at 220 E. Monument Ave. The 220 E. Monument Ave. building is current on its taxes, but the garage is behind.

via Delinquent Downtown Properties – Dayton Business Journal.

Your tax dollars built the Relizon/WorkFlow One/CareSource building and now CareSource- totally funded with your tax dollars- isn’t paying taxes on the building their people are undoubtedly parking in.

But, it just gets more entertaining.

Despite, being literally right across the street from the garage that’s technically owned by the taxpayers- the taxpayers are being stuck with the bill for another parking garage:

The city of Dayton is moving forward with the financing to pay for the new downtown garage for Water Street.

Commission approved Wednesday a bond purchase agreement to borrow $6 million from the Ohio State Transportation Infrastructure GRF Bond Fund Program. Of that, $2.5 million comes through state loan proceeds and $3.5 million from state infrastructure bank bond proceeds. The funding will help pay for the acquisition and construction that supports the three-story 429-space garage that will serve the Water Street development.

via Dayton to borrow $6M to pay for Water Street garage – Dayton Business Journal.

The first article pointed out that almost one in four properties downtown aren’t current on their taxes- but, there have been no cuts to the “Downtown Dayton Partnership” which is supposedly funded with property taxes in the “Special Improvement District” or SID. Never mind the fact that buildings are dropping in value like rocks- as businesses move to Austin Landing where your tax dollars built a brand new mega intersection and funded development in an unincorporated township- where mysteriously, only the little people pay income taxes (people working at Kohl’s and Kroger and Five Guys pay taxes- people working at Teradata or Thompson Hine- do not).

One must also wonder if the closing of all the downtown Dayton exits on I-75 just after Austin Road was built wasn’t an attempt to squeeze the last life out of downtown- so it can turn into more wrecking bills for Steve Rauch and company? Because one way to cut vacancy rate is to just tear down buildings.

In the meantime, getting a police officer to solve a crime in Dayton becomes even more of a pipedream, as the force continues to dwindle because of budget cuts, retirements and a lack of money to pay cops – because, well, parking garages are more important.

I’m just wondering when the city is going to start building garages for people who are still stupid enough to buy houses in our city? Oops- they tried doing that in Wright Dunbar and it hasn’t exactly taken off.

At some point voters need to wake up. There is no silver bullet to save downtown or your neighborhood. If we focus on the basics first- like snow removal, police response times, solving petty crime, cleaning streets- and making the city building department business friendly- we’d see a lot more progress than these Hail Mary moves to “create economic development.”

We also need to take a hard look at what has occurred at Austin Landing- and stop this idea that we can have these tax dodge havens. Those were all Dayton jobs- maybe the answer is to expand the south airport and annex the whole area into Dayton and turning it into an “enterprise zone” (like at the airport- because, well, that’s been so successful).

Heading into the new year end tax time, I’m looking at our whole screwed up multi-jurisdictional taxing mess and thinking of it as a design problem. How would we simplify the collection of taxes in the region and cut the amount of time wasted on fining and forgiving small businesses who can’t keep up with this rats’ nest of jurisdictions?

It’s really pretty simple- one single income tax rate. A single property tax levy. And an absolute limit on numbers of elected officials per people per square mile. And put a complete stop to investing public tax dollars into private developments- that’s not what we pay our taxes for.

But then again- it’s becoming really clear that only little people are expected to pay taxes anymore.

Hits, runs and errors. Society’s failings- not baseball.

I’ve never been afraid in Dayton, Ohio. Maybe because I’m wired wrong. On the way home from the first CIRGV meeting, I saw a young teen walking fast up W. Third with a 22.-caliber rifle, I turned my scooter around- and stopped him to talk- before he scurried off, and I called the police. Yes- I should have called cops first- and headed on my way. I’ve also been all over Dayton- way past dark, hanging basketball nets. Carried the ladder at least a thousand feet to the remote court in Western Hills – close to midnight to put up nets- without a worry.

Urban Nights is supposed to be when we put out our welcome mat. When all feel welcome to go downtown. Well, all, except the people we don’t want to acknowledge live in our community- urban, black youths. And, this isn’t an indictment of them- we’re all to blame. We’ve worked for the last 50 years to separate ourselves and to pretend that everything is hunky-dory. What happened and what I saw Friday night, 9 May, 2014, Urban Nights wasn’t an epic event by any means. As a very young boy- I remember my Dad lifting me to the window in East Cleveland of our 8th floor apartment to look North over the city of Cleveland- with the sky glowing orange from the fires during the Hough and Glenville riots. He took a photo that ended up on the cover of the Plain Dealer Sunday magazine- my grandmother, painted it, the painting hung on our walls for a long time, and faded away from relevance. I don’t know where the painting is now, but- the memory of the sky stuck with me. That was an epic event.

This year’s spring Urban Nights seemed like it was lightly attended compared to others. The rain was holding off, but, the crowds were still light. I had almost stayed home, after a long week, but a friend had texted and I headed over on the scooter and parked it next to Drake’s Gym/Gentile Produce and started at St. Clair between Fourth and Third. As usual, I ran into lots of friendly faces including our former neighborhood cop, former Mayor Gary Leitzell, a BOE worker, Tim Kambitch- head of the Dayton Metro Library- all within the first 40 minutes. I headed over to 2nd Street and saw my friend Haitham at Carmen’s Deli- and waited for the band to start at 9- it was Hal Melia’s Brass Tacks band- with a horn section. I talked to Brian West- a friend and trumpet player- who said the guy on trumpet was probably the best in a 200-mile region. They were tight- the singer had a great voice- but, when they started playing their second song by Chicago after only 6 tunes- I’d reached my limit of pop- and headed round the corner to see what was going on at Courthouse Square- and to check out the AIA at the Business Furniture spot.

The police were congregated at Second and Main. On bikes, cruisers, and a few of the new SUVs. Courthouse Square was dark. The architects had already closed up shop- I continued ambling down S. Main where I passed a white guy with a megaphone standing on the corner- reading scripture. Other than the security guys that I saw at the RTA bus depot, he was the last white person I saw as I made my way through a crowd of black youths. I didn’t feel threatened. I didn’t sense any tension. It was around 9:20 pm. I made it down where I was almost to 4th street, having passed TNT Fashion and was looking over at the Kuntz building- at the corner of 4th and Main- it’s still one of my favorite downtown buildings, with its red clay color and castle-like ornamentation. I glanced back toward Third and saw a swarm of kids out in Main Street- moving like a flock of sparrows, undulating, changing direction together as if they were some sort of magnetic liquid goo being moved by a mysterious unseen magnet.

I took out my phone and started recording, with the thought that the police would be the ones to act badly. I was wrong. Someone says at 0:45 “he’s recording” – as if they are totally oblivious to the city’s new security cameras and the ones RTA has had. At 1:05 my phone gets swatted from my hands, I pick it up, stick it in my pocket and start chasing the punk. At this point, I’m mad, but not thinking about what comes next. Sort of like GWB invading Iraq. Thanks to his baggy pants and me not being totally out of shape at 51, I am gaining on him as he stops, midway down 4th St., across from Dave Hall Plaza- you can hear the complete exchange. He wants to fight, I don’t know what I want. I’m also aware of the huge mob that has run after us and is starting to surround me- someone swings- hits me in the temple- my glasses go off, I turn- and step on them. More hits come- I’m moving to the wall to at least make sure that I don’t end up in the center of a beat down- and can stay up. Fighting a lot of people doesn’t work out like a Bruce Lee movie- they don’t conveniently wait for you to dispatch them one at a time, they all come at you at once. Most of the blows come to my head- at some point- I lost vision in my left eye temporarily. As fast as it starts, it ends- I go over to pick up my glasses- one arm of my glasses is askew- I pick up the lenses and stick them in my pocket. One of them is going to be the only way I can read until morning. A cop on a motorcycle pulls up as I wave him down- and tell him I was assaulted by a kid wearing a white wife beater, baggy jeans. The cop told me to wait here.

I post to Facebook using Siri voice recognition- at 9:45 pm

“Just got assaulted at urban nights, while videotaping of Nealeigh out in front of the RTA glasses are broken so I can’t see what I’m typing”

Apologies to my friend Tommy Nealeigh, who is usually worth videotaping, I said “melee” – but Siri apparently isn’t a riot girl.

Another crowd swarm started at Fourth and Main- by an RTA bus. I filmed again.

No cops had come back- so I called 911, and as I was on the phone, another officer came by- I flagged him down. Told him again what had happened and asked 911 to send a medic. I told them I was moving toward 4th and St. Clair- but was crossing over to the Dave Hall plaza corner- and would wait there for a medic. I didn’t think I was bleeding- which was confirmed by friends, former city planning director Paul Woodie and current city purchasing director Pete Hager, who were walking down Jefferson toward Fifth Street. The fire engine passed us- then the medic passed us- even as we waved- and I called back to 911 to confirm my location. The medic had my neighbor Jen Quinn in it- and she checked me out and suggested I go to a hospital- I said I needed to go to the VA- and they started driving before I agreed to it. I would have had a friend take me, but she said it was too late- just decline transport.

My phone was getting messages like crazy- with friends checking in. I had to hold up the one lens to my right eye to read them. A Dayton cop came and took a statement, gave me a report number. About an hour later- another officer showed up to do the same thing.

In the thread on Facebook, the discussion turned to safety of downtown, whom to blame. A friend pointed out that there had been an event promoted to youth- and then cancelled at the last minute and blamed organizers. I found no evidence of this event happening this year- but they had a teen celebration in the fall of 2013.

The VA called in the guy to give me a CAT scan- and I left with a shot of an anti-inflammatory in my butt. The three hours of ice pack seemed to have averted major bruising. I got a printout of my recent eye exam, so I could get some glasses. My head is still a little sore, and thanks to Kevin Harrington at Downtown Dayton Optical I now have 2 new pairs of glasses- one for reading and one for the computer. When I tried to pay Kevin, he refused payment- almost had me in tears.
He said “most people don’t appreciate what you do for this city- I do. One of the advantages of owning your own business is you can do nice things for people. I really appreciate you, and- I’m sorry what happened last night”

I’m sorry what happened too.

After the video had stopped recording in my pocket- some kids did come over and said they were sorry- I said that I was kind of in shock- after hanging 300 plus basketball nets- I’m the one that gets beaten up. One kid said – “oh, you’re esrati” (mangling my name)- which was the one glimmer of hope for the evening.

But, after the bruising of my ego and when my head heals- what do we as a community do? The Dayton Daily has kept this event to a few column inches in the back of the paper today. Chastising the Downtown Dayton Partnership, or reporting negative things happening at their signature event is something to be minimized. It was on the 11 p.m. news- I saw it from my bed in the VA ER. From 100 to 1,s000 youth have been attributed- my guess is around 500. That someone had a gun is also part of their synopsis.

But, this is more than one event. This is what happens when you stop finding money to put basketball nets on rims, fill in pools, close rec centers, stop having midnight basketball in the summer. This is what happens when you bus kids all over the city- instead of maintaining strong neighborhood connections. This is what happens when kids have kids- and let their kids run the streets. If you are a mother, or a grandmother and see your kid in these videos, you are failing your babies.

screen grab from melee, with kid identified who hit David Esrati

On the right of this frame, from around 0:39 you see the kid in the white wife beater and baggy jeans, pushing someone else aside.

I’m lucky I’m here to write this, with my only problem being the two- to three-week wait for my new no-line bifocals with AR coating to show up. I’ve had friends say I should take up boxing, others say I should have had a CCW. Meeting violence with violence is not the answer. I’m sure that had I been carrying a gun, someone would be dead right now, possibly me. I do know how to fight- but, one man against a mob- the odds aren’t good. I’m not happy in retrospect with my own choices of words and actions in the span of those few minutes- but, then again, a bad decision in a few minutes is what puts many of our young black men in prison. I’m not black. Someone told me on the campaign trail last time, that “if you were black, you’d have been elected long ago.” I still wonder about what would make someone say that- and, if it was true.

I’m sure that this post is too long for an event that spanned just a few minutes. If you are still reading, thank you. If you’ve watched the videos- thank you. If you see your kids in the videos- it’s time to have a talk with them. It’s time for our community to have a real talk about this. Our kids need better options than this. It’s not their fault, it’s ours. We’ve failed them.

Had I been anyone else, I would have seen that crowd and would have run the other way. I’m sure that I may think twice about doing what I did on Friday night. But, hopefully, the young man who decided to hit my phone, and then me- maybe, just maybe, he might read this, and realize that this wasn’t his triumphant moment in life. Maybe when he tells his friends about his beating on this old white dude- one of them says- you hit the green net man, that guy is cool. Maybe not.

I know I could have behaved better as well. We all need a better understanding- a better dialogue in this community. We need better solutions for our youth. For our community.

I got hit, I ran, I committed errors. This isn’t baseball. Let’s all work together to fix this.

Explaining irrational behavior in Dayton, Ohio

prolog:

A word that people bandy about when they bring my name up is “crazy.” That is until they actually know me. Unfortunately, I’m cursed with something that isn’t valued much in Dayton- a very high IQ. It’s one of those things that I don’t care about, but what I do care about is my city, as do most people who read this site. Most of you are gutless wonders performing your role as part of “the machine”- and as of this election, I’m here to tell you- the machine is on its last legs. Here is why,

Note, you can skip this next section entirely, and jump straight to the topic of the day- the great food truck debate, but, since it’s Thanksgiving, I thought I’d give thanks to the crooks who got us to where we are today.

The first hints of trouble started back in the mid-1980s

Despite the pride that we have in our “city manager” system which was supposed to keep politics out of running our city, it’s never really been anything but a front for business to control the local markets. The Dayton Business Committee — and before them, the All Dayton Committee, met in back rooms and schemed out their plans for where and what was supposed to be done in Dayton. One powerful family in the mix were the Danises who liked to build things- from buildings to landfills and water treatment plants. Another were the Beermans- who besides owning a department store downtown, also owned a lot of real estate. What was good for the scions of Dayton – was good for Dayton. Unfortunately, none of them had a clue about city planning- or sprawl, other than “building is good” for the economy- so build we did and sprawl some more.  Dayton did well with Fortune 500 HQ’s for a city our size- with Mead, Reynolds, & Reynolds,  Standard Register, and NCR in the mix. The workers had jobs that paid well, thanks especially to Generous Motors- where Dayton was the lone bastion of the IUE in the auto biz- and caused Detroit no end of headaches with the odd-guy-out issues.

The political parties played along- as long as they could keep their patronage jobs working, and they never elected anyone who would stand up to the boys in the back room who really were calling the shots. And make no mistake- the people who were calling the shots weren’t afraid to show their muscle- when I first ran for mayor- the windows at my office were shot out twice to send a message, but that’s already after the major shift that was the first hint of where we are today.

One Dayton Center- or the Arcade Tower- photo

An early big bad idea by government

The city was celebrating the reopening of the Arcade- things were good, but we needed to keep the Danis family happy. A study came out saying there was a shortage of Class A office space downtown, and if we didn’t build it- businesses would flee. The Dayco tower by the Dayton Mall was a very scary symbol to those downtown. Danis started with a plan to build the CitFed tower at 2nd and Main and got caught up with preservation problems. In the meantime, the city, still flush with cash from payroll income taxes on all those NCR jobs, thought that they had done so well with the redevelopment of the arcade- that they should build a tower too. Remember, this is because a “study” said we needed it. They entered into an agreement with Webb Henne developers to build a tower at Third and Main – in competition with the Danis tower. A squabble broke out and people were taking sides and fighting for one tower or the other. A lot of money was used to grease wheels- and despite the city contract with Webb Henne stating they must have at least 35% pre-leased to move ahead- they built it with only 20% leased. The Danis tower, although it was first to be announced, opened later, and a fight for rearranging deck chairs broke out. Danis paid the Police Chief, Tyree Broomfield $100,000 to go away, he got the contract to build the landfill on the West Side (which was the reason party favorite Clay Dixon lost to Republican wonderboy Mike Turner). At some point, the city decided to shut down the city steam system- probably as payoff by DP&L which often hired political types into very nice “government affair jobs.” Without city steam- the arcade could no longer be heated, older buildings had to retrofit (a very expensive process) and Danis got the arcade, closed it down- in an attempt to force the eventual foreclosure on the Arcade tower and on and on the spinning wheel goes.

The idea that the city should and could be a player in the public sector as an investor, financier, owner was officially hatched. Never mind that every project was practically stillborn- or required tradeoffs, subsidies, etc. The investment in the Landing and the downtown YMCA drove Joe Moore to close his downtown gym- swearing never to return. Other real estate investors sat and watched as tax breaks drove their rents down- until almost every major building downtown has been sold under duress/foreclosure (the only one not suffering this fate as far as I know is the Talbott tower). Like pizza chains offering cheap pizza, the race to the bottom was on- and there are no winners. Downtown was eating up more time, resources and tax dollars- and the focus on quality of life for the residents was put on the back burner. It didn’t help that NAFTA was signed in the early 1990s and that giant sucking sound started to slowly siphon off the good jobs and the income tax receipts that came with them.

Dayton has a whole layer of quasi-government that has been built over the years to help keep the paper trail confusing to the general observer. Citywide Development Corporation and the Downtown Dayton Partnership and more recently, the Dayton Development Coalition have taken the driver’s seats over from the former Dayton Business Committee- or at least, they think they have. And while the DBC still exists, now they include the publisher of the Dayton Daily News in their group- because, well, they have to control the story and keep the voters in the dark and clueless.

Really insidious things have been allowed to happen, without so much as a peep from the masses. The giant sucking sound out of Downtown to Austin Landing has been supported with more tax dollars than is in Dayton’s annual budget. As to collecting income taxes- now, despite the law that says “townships” can’t levy income taxes- they’ve somehow engineered the taxation of blue-collar workers there- while the white-collar workers- who all used to work in Dayton (Teradata, Thompson Hine, etc.) don’t pay income taxes. The same is happening to blue-collar workers at Miller Lane in Butler Township.

We’ve been sidetracked with dreams of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles as our savior (drones) and before that, composites and for a minute fuel cells and before that distribution hub, which is now being dusted off again as a rally cry of the people who get paid to pronounce instead of actually do. The siphoning of money from the poor to the rich isn’t just a Wall Street thing- it’s done daily here in Dayton – which is how we come to food trucks. The lowest rung of the ladder.

The Great Thanksgiving Day Food Truck Massacre

It started on Tuesday, when Tonia Fish told me that her temporary lease on the old Chin’s/Elbo’s/Sa-Bai space at 200 S. Jefferson St. may not be renewed. A meeting of some sort had been held in City Hall and the decision was coming. Mayor Leitzell had told me that in the executive session last week, where this matter was being discussed, Nan Whaley wasn’t prepared to vote on it and it was tabled. Had they had another illegal meeting of the commission to discuss this lease? There wasn’t an announced session- and since Executive sessions have to be done either as an emergency and announced- or gone into from a regularly scheduled meeting- what had happened?

Full disclosure- Tonia and her husband Joe Fish have been my friends for a long time. They own the Chef Case in the 2nd Street market – and I’ve done a few projects for them. I’ve been left out of all of the Synergy Incubators marketing- because I’m too controversial.

Mrs. Fish is a force to be reckoned with. Having worked with high-powered people in big cities, she’s meticulous in her planning and in the execution of her plans. Her business plan was to turn the space in the Transportation Center Garage into a communal kitchen/teaching/banquet place for independent food operators. This actually dovetails with businesses like Thai 9 that routinely have to turn down large events that they can’t cater or book because it would disrupt their regular business- as opposed to the last tenant the city put in this space, Sa-Bai, that was direct, subsidized competition for Thai 9.

She’d already begun offering business education at the former Dayton Public Schools Central Kitchen which was in mothballs until she opened Dayton’s first mobile food business commissary. The kitchen is currently licensed as a prep kitchen which food trucks and carts use as home base. But, it’s a manufacturing plant- not a restaurant training ground. The city claims to be in favor of this part of her plan- and supports it. The sticking point that killed this local food incubator wasn’t the low rent- but the plan to help support this facility by having one day a month food truck rallies on this location. Hard to believe that drawing a few thousand people downtown once a month is a threat to any restaurant business- and no business owner would come out and say this, but, because this is Dayton. Ohio- where irrational behavior gets rewarded, the one-year lease/experiment got axed officially yesterday.

Food trucks don’t kill business- idiots kill businesses

Two people railed behind the scenes to put the kibosh on the food truck rallies. One was Realtor and Oregon District Business Association head Mike Martin. While the city has no other potential tenants for either the space in question or the former Greyhound station- the idea of a tenant that pays rent and keeps the place operating apparently isn’t good enough for Mike. He has trotted out a “club promoter” who has said they aren’t interested in the space as a potential tenant just to sew a fine thread of hope in the commission’s micro-sized minds. He says, even though no vote has been taken, that the ODBA is against food truck rallies- even though Mrs. Fish had letters of support from Lily’s, Blind Bob’s, Thai 9 and the 5th Street Deli in hand. Of course, the ODBA isn’t all restaurants and bars- businesses like Sew Dayton,  and the Urban Krag support the food trucks- as do Gilly’s and the Neon Movies, and would love to see the district not closed off to customers for the annual drunk fest at Halloween which negatively impact their businesses.

The other is the Downtown Dayton Partnership head, Sandy Gudorf, who went around claiming that she was doing an official survey sponsored by the city on whether the businesses support food truck rallies. With the recent inclusion of the Oregon District in the area managed by the DDP (the “ambassadors” program- privately contracted sanitation workers doing work the city or property owners should do) the claim that the food trucks don’t pay for her services is her main complaint. 200 S, Jefferson has always been in the SID that funds the DDP- and is current on payments. Never mind the fact that without the failings of the city to do the right things (see the first part of this post) her organization wouldn’t have a reason to exist. Her un-scientific, un-professional poll was used as the basis for the rejecting the lease according to sources in city hall.

Irrational reasoning

David Esrati's facebook ad comparing money spent on business parks vs. spent on real parks

A Facebook campaign ad for Esrati about Tech Town investment

No one asked other real estate owners downtown if they wanted to compete with tax financed and subsidized projects like the arcade tower or tech town. Over $40 million has been spent on incubators for startup businesses at Tech Town- many of whom have never even paid rent. An entire empty building has been standing for over two years- and only after it became a campaign issue have they found a tenant by giving another sweetheart deal to Children’s Medical Center (rearranging deck chairs instead of creating new ships).

No one questions a new restaurant opening at the Dayton Mall, the Greene or the Fairfield Commons mall area- yet, the idea of a pop-up food truck pod one day a month is somehow dangerous to the fragile economic ecosystem downtown?

The city commission didn’t make a ruling on this in a legal meeting. Therefore, this decision has been made by city staff with their tacit approval. When are we going to hold anyone accountable for the complete clusterduck that happened with Sa-Bai? From the ridiculous lease, to the late opening, to the missed rent, to the destruction of city owned fixtures and theft, to the leaving of food to rot for months in the space (which was all cleaned up by Mrs. Fish’s people). It’s become pretty obvious that city involvement in the private real estate market has more of a destabilizing effect than a positive one. Maybe if our government tried sticking to governing we’d be in better shape?

Signs of disaster since the election

The dust up over Garden Station should have been a wake-up call to the people of Dayton of what could be expected by the Party of Nan, where organic (in every sense of the way) projects would be getting shut down. And just before the election the implosion of the Schwind building, before a clear deed and signed contract were in hand should have been the second.

But in the weeks since the election with the lowest turnout in history coupled with the biggest campaign budget- we’ve seen the rear of the Dayton Daily News building demolished by accident, the emergency pay raise and now the food truck massacre. The Water Street project is also standing in line for a handout from taxpayers- along with another tax abatement to screw our schools. What’s almost funny is that the only rumored tenant so far is PNC Bank which would move from another landmark building- the I.M. Pei-designed building at Third and Main- more deck chair rearranging, which will most likely screw the other David Greer (the banjo playing lawyer) who’s offices are in that building-  which will have a hard time affording their tax bills and utilities without that space being full. Greer was a big supporter of Whaley not only donating money- but playing at her fundraiser at Jimmie’s Ladder 11.

What to do to save the food trucks and Dayton?

If this is to be the final straw that breaks the camel’s back- it’s time to do a real survey of businesses in the area to see if they do or don’t support the one-day-a-month rallies- and then if the majority really does oppose the trucks and the people they bring to the failed corner- maybe we should organize a boycott of their establishments? Free market capitalism deserves support- and those who don’t agree- shouldn’t get your money. Note, if the space in question was owned by a private company, there would be NOTHING the city could do to stop the rallies.

The harder part, is to change the city charter. First step would be to gather 12,000+ signatures of registered voters to put the change in the charter to match Ohio Revised Code on numbers of signatures required for changing the charter and recall to be based on actual voters and not voters on the books. This means more people than voted for the future Mayor would have to sign. I used to think that it should be based on the number of votes in the gubernatorial elections- but, after Ms. Whaley’s pathetic performance and the low turnout- I think it should be based on the number of voters who voted to put people in office. So instead of needing 25% of the 35,000 or so people who voted in Dayton to sign a petition to recall the mayor- it would be 25% of the number of votes in that election – or in this case- 25% of about 16,000 or 4,000- an approachable number in Dayton.

And lastly, since the city is turning down a lease, maybe the income to the taxpayers, as well as the utilities, taxes, insurance etc. that would have been taken care of by a private organization, should be taken out of the commission’s newly increased salaries?

It was just last week that the Dayton Daily News told us that Downtown Dayton was leading the nation in vacancy and that it was at death’s door. Here is an opportunity to bring some vitality and hope back. The food truck rallies are an easy way to bring something to a downtown starving for vibrancy.

Your thoughts are welcome in comments below. The real question is whether we can get two hundred volunteers to collect signatures to change our charter and give us the ability to end this kind of irrational behavior?

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.

Questions for A.J. Wagner- our future mayor

The twitter account for WagnerForMayor has been claimed by "The Fake AJ Wagner"

If you want people to follow your account, you should own it first

Last night I let the community know about A.J. Wagner’s new Wagner for Mayor website. One of my readers has already claimed the twitter account that the Washington. D,C,. developers failed to claim, despite telling the world to follow @WagnerforMayor

His fundraising button to ActBlue doesn’t work yet either. And, the brilliant D.C. developer also failed to remove the “Hello World” post as well. The site does look real “purdy” though.

AJ Wagner for Mayor site designed by DC firm Code and Politics

I believe in Dayton, but I go to DC for my site

Considering Wagner claims all over his site that he “believes in Dayton” he chose not to use any number of local firms that can develop a site and a brand and headed to Washington, D.C., to hire “Code and Politics” So far he has no content under “The Issues” and in his grand introduction which is written in that wonderful third-person voice (especially odd for a blog post) the most telling part is that you can’t comment. Does A.J. want to have a conversation with the people of Dayton or not? Since you can’t do anything but friend him on Facebook and sign up for a newsletter, I thought I’d open the discussion about A.J.’s campaign here on Esrati.com where the people who choose to be well informed about Dayton politics and graft come daily.

I’ve used the ordered list with numbers for discussion only, not as a rank of importance.

  1. You’ve been writing a column in the Dayton City Paper (DCP), now that you are a political candidate, will you give that up, or will you get the DCP to give your opposition equal space?
  2. Do you plan on writing your own posts on your blog, or continue to have some strange ghostwriter do it in a third person like our Republican congressman and former Mayor, Mike Turner? And if you are interested in learning how to use this technology, may I recommend the excellent seminar on using WordPress, www.websitetology.com
  3. Will you at some point allow comments? Will they post immediately like on esrati.com or will you hold them for moderation?
  4. As a judge, you recused yourself from all death penalty cases, claiming your Catholic faith and personal moral constructs put you at odds with the law (citation needed, but take my word for it- or A.J. can respond in comments). Are there any issues in the city that your faith and constructs might put you at odds with the law- for example, the Catholic church isn’t a fan of abortion, birth control, gay marriage, domestic partner registries, etc.?
  5. The current city charter requires 500 signatures of registered voters to get on the ballot and to have the petitions notarized. This is a bit odd, since you only need 50 signatures to run for Congress. It has stopped many candidates from getting on the ballot due to technicalities or the validity of signatures (which have to be gathered in very cold weather). The state standard is also 50 signatures. Will you change this?
  6. Also, the charter requirements for citizens to put a charter change on the ballot and the recall process both are measured by percentages of registered voters- not by a percentage of actual voters in an election (the standard that’s used throughout the state). According to the census, Dayton has 109,000 people of voting age. If you believe the 100,000  count of registered voters at the Board of Elections we have 93% of adults are qualified to sign petitions. Yet petitions routinely have at least 30% of the signatures invalidated. Will you fix this?
  7. What is A,J, Wagner’s plan for the priority board system that was implemented in the ’70’s and decimated in the last ten years?
  8. On your site you talk about improving educational opportunities. To quote Mike Turner in his first mayoral race when I was running against him and talked about the schools, “if you want to talk about the schools you should be running for school board.” Where is the money coming from to better fund pre-K education and full-day kindergartens? And where is the money coming from to fund a program “for all those who qualify and apply themselves, through a college diploma paid for by private and public benefactors” ala the “Kalamazoo promise” We can be promised the world by any politician, we want to know specifics on how you will achieve it.
  9. You backed Rhine McLin in the past and Richard Clay Dixon. Considering that neither of them was a  stellar, ground breaking mayor- what will make you different? Can you point out any paradigm shifts you implemented as auditor or as a judge that supports your ability to do any “outside the box” thinking?
  10. We’ve seen the City Commission get mired up in national politics by addressing things that are outside the purview of city government – an assault weapons ban, a handgun registry, anti-predatory lending laws, living wage rules which while all good and fine for posturing, drained city resources and took the eye off the ball of doing the basic jobs that our city has been failing to do (indicated by the mass exodus of residents over the last 25 years). Are you for or against these kinds of grandstands- and how do you feel about each of them in retrospect (every one of them has cost the taxpayers plenty).
  11. Despite my protest and arrest over the subject of illegal “work sessions” of the City Commission back in 1996, the charter clearly specifies only one official meeting of the commission to conduct business at a set time and place, these have continued to be held. Will you stop this practice or continue it?
  12. The rules on public speaking at City Commission have become pretty draconian over the last 20 years, will you change the tenor of how citizens are received at the legal meeting?
  13. Over the last 20 years, we’ve seen the growth of the “Department of Economic Development” in the city, the county and the state. The main function of this department seems to be to hand out tax breaks or our tax dollars to private companies. What is your position on this?
  14. The Downtown Dayton Partnership has been funded for a number of years with an additional tax on downtown property owners. Considering the huge loss of downtown jobs, is it time to end the “Special Improvement District”?
  15. The city has given money for years to the Dayton Development Coalition which is supposed to serve as a regional Economic development department, but instead seems to have become a federal lobbying group. The city has also paid a lobbyist at times with tax dollars. Will you stop this practice and instead be our voice to lobby to our other elected officials?
  16. What are your specific criticisms of our current mayor? How has Gary Leitzell failed the citizens of Dayton in your opinion. I know this question is difficult for a nice guy like you, but, some would  point out he’s only one vote of five, and you’ve been a supporter of the other four commissioners who have probably gotten in his way. Comment?
  17. As a follow up question to #16, the inside joke about the mayor’s job is that your only qualification is that you have to be able to count to three. Which two commissioners will you engage and count on to make your mark?
  18. If I crawled though your campaign finance reports- who would I find as your major donors? You’ve run for other offices including Ohio Supreme Court. Are there any donors who might embarrass you? Do you have any opinion on campaign finance reform? Gary Leitzell ran his campaign with a sixth of what Rhine McLin spent- are you willing to agree to limits if your opposition does?
  19. You retired as judge before your term was up. Why should we elect a quitter? If you do it again, it will cost the taxpayers money for a special election- will you promise to personally guarantee the costs of a special election if elected? Also, if you are already receiving a state pension, will you forgo it while serving as mayor if you win? And, how will a four-year term as mayor affect your pension- is this part of why you are running – to add years? If the anti-spiking law goes into effect being mayor may actually lower your average pay and could decrease your pension- are you OK with that?
  20. I admit, I was impressed when you planted a flag in your yard for every dead US soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan as a reminder to us of the real cost of war. I understand that removing thousands of flags and replanting them every time you had to mow became an issue. While symbolism is wonderful- what else did you actively do to protest?
  21. I’ve previously posted an attack on your practice of housing young UD co-eds in your home– at one point the voter rolls had as many as 5 women, not related to you, residing in your home. What changes to zoning and building codes will you push as mayor? Do you support Single Room Occupancy, dropping the requirements for parking with development in built locations, or are there other ideas you have in this area?
  22. Last question- call it catch 22. Our city has a weak-mayor system. We’re supposed to have a professional city manager lead us, yet politicians with big egos and small brains have minimized our manager’s voice over the years. While Tim Riordan has done an amazing job at keeping the city out of financial folly, he’s not been a particularly visible or engaged leader. Who will you replace him with? Or will you try to move us away from the city manager form of government?

To be fair to Judge Wagner, and to other candidates, this is more than enough to keep him busy writing his blog for the next month. We’re still waiting to see who else throws their hat in the ring for leader of the pack.

In the meantime- make sure you follow @Wagnerformayor for the latest updates. I’m sure you’ll get more answers from the Fake AJ Wagner than you will from the real one.

If any of my readers want to pose questions for “The Future Mayor of Dayton” comments are open and welcome by me- the future…. of Dayton.

City spends $95K after not doing anything with $200k of advice

Architects are by definition, part of the “creative class” that Dayton seems so desperate to attract. We’ve gone overboard buying into the touchy-feely snake oil peddled by Richard Florida, that hasn’t turned any city around yet.

So as part of the dreaming of what could be, the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects donated a ton of work re-imagining downtown- for FREE. The Downtown Dayton Partnership released this press release (in MS Word, with no ability to read directly online) singing their praises:

Downtown Dayton Partnership Unveils Strategic Building Reuse Project Designs

Ten Local Architectural Firms Donate Nearly $200,000 in Service

DAYTON, March 25, 2009 —Ten local architectural firms have created ten different reuse options for some of downtown’s most unique but underutilized spaces.

Last year the Downtown Dayton Partnership (DDP) partnered with the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, ten local architectural firms, and the City of Dayton to develop a strategic reuse plan that would transform underutilized properties into spaces that are better suited for the future needs of our community. Bob Shiffler, owner of the Kuhns, McCrory and Schwind Buildings, chaired this initiative for the DDP.

via Downtown Dayton Partnership.

Yet, yesterday, the Dayton City Commission voted to hand over $95k on an RFP to 4 firms: LWC Inc. (the former Lorenz & Williams Clinton), Woolpert Inc, Lawhon & Associates and Al Neyer Inc. A few architects whom I know said they didn’t even see this RFP- which makes it sound like a no-bid contract.

Why we are spending money to come up with plans for 4 more buildings downtown- when we haven’t acted on any of the plans that were already donated? Why are the taxpayers paying to devise plans for buildings that the taxpayers don’t own?

$95K would pay for 2 cops on the street for a year, or maybe even cutting the grass more than 3x a year in our parks so we can play in them, Instead, we’re paying money for things we don’t need, to people who didn’t bid competitively, and have no way of actually implementing the suggestions.

Does any of this make sense to you? Or does it sound like paying back political donors?  (LWC managing partner, Bear Monita gave $1k to Rhine.

While the city is claiming poverty- what is the return on investment on this plan? Can we have it in writing from the City Manager? It’s time for some accountability.

ADDITION: Beautiful video (thanks to the Dayton Informer) of the Mayor asking the questions of Shelly “I can’t give a simple answer” Dickstein:

Laywers lacking imagination: Thompson Hine to move to boringville

The old joke goes: What is the difference between a lawyer and a catfish? One’s a scum sucking bottom feeder, the other is a fish.

Thompson Hine LLP must think we’re stupid- saying they can’t find suitable office space in Downtown Dayton either shows they think we’re morons (with something like 30% reported vacancy rates downtown) or that the real incentives are that they don’t want to pay the City of Dayton 2.25% income tax, having to pay for parking (of course the cost of “free parking” south is built into the premium rent) or that they are doing work (or want to do work) for the power brokers behind the real-estate development at Austin Pike.

From the Dayton Daily News:

The decision to move the 100-employee firm to offices in the Innovation Point section of Austin Landing capped a five-year effort by Thompson Hine to find new digs, but came as a disappointment to city officials and downtown advocates.

Robert Curry, the law firm’s partner in charge, said Thompson Hine opted for the Miami Twp. office building because its layout will allow the firm to consolidate operations onto fewer floors. The new location also will put the firm in closer proximity to its Cincinnati office and provide easier access to parking, Curry said.

Hmm, let’s see, right next door is the former Elder Beerman/Reynolds and Reynolds TAC, sitting with a largely empty first floor, and several empty floors above- which  is now owned by a company that also bought the parking garage directly across the street. Or, we could look at some other innovative options- like the Hauer Music Building which has 4 floors of ultra cool space, parking and is a short walk from the best lunch spots in town. They could have OWNED the building for less than they are going to pay to rent some generic space at Austin Pike. They could also probably pick-up the Patterson Kennedy Elementary School from Dayton Public Schools for pocket change- and have an incredible building to renovate and have all the space they need- plus a basketball court for lunchtime workouts (I watch the Good Wife- and it seems judges and lawyers always shoot hoops together). The location has plenty of parking and space galore. They could even build apartments into the building- so they could host clients from out of town and/or their expert witnesses. Imagine that powerful statement?

The Dayton Career academy is sitting without a purpose behind Requarth- and available- as is tons of space in the Dayton Hydraulic owned building that formerly held Woolpert. Both those buildings are in the area that was to “become BallPark Village” (whatever) and was supposedly on their map.

Thompson Hine has been a tenant in KeyBank Tower, 10 W. Second St., since the office tower was built in 1977, Curry said. Shifts in the legal profession — fewer clerical workers, less library space and fewer reception areas — also meant changes in the type of space law firms need, the attorney said.

“There have been a lot of changes that have made our space somewhat antiquated for our use,” he said.

Curry said timing also was an issue. With some major city office towers going through ownership changes, it made it hard for his firm to reach deals, particularly when it came to issues such as money from landlords for tenant improvements.

“This led to several potential deals falling through, and this eventually steered us to Austin Landing,” Curry said.

Shelley Dickstein, assistant city manager for strategic development, said Dayton offered the law firm $200,000 in development funds to spend on tenant improvements. City officials also tried to move forward talks between Thompson Hine and Bank of America, the current owner of Kettering Tower, Dickstein said.

“We’re just extremely disappointed that (the firm) didn’t take another couple of weeks to try and let the Kettering Tower situation clarify itself before making this announcement,” Dickstein said.

Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership, said she was disappointed with the outcome, but having major office towers in distress situations complicated efforts to keep Thompson Hine downtown.

“We were hoping to get this done,” she said.

Curry said Thompson Hine began looking for new space in 2005, two years before its lease on what was then MeadWestvaco Tower was set to expire. In 2008, Thompson Hine signed a letter of intent to move to Ballpark Village, a proposed redevelopment of 40 acres along the Great Miami River near Fifth Third Field into housing, retail, commercial and entertainment venues that never materialized.

via 100-employee law firm to move from downtown to Austin Landing.

While it’s not the job of the city to get involved in real estate deals (although you’d never know it) they’ve built three brand new buildings down in “Tech Town” and offered subsidized rents- which make me wonder why Shelly Dickstein and Sandy Gudorf still have jobs? Where is the imagination to find a space in a city full of it?

It’s time to realize that the heavy investment in Austin Pike by the county, pushed by the Dayton Development Coalition and major real estate barons like Randy Gunlock with RG Properties and Mills Morgan Development are going to continue to decimate downtown until we get a true regional solution to our patchwork of “government” and “economic development.”

The first thing that needs to happen is a single flat income tax across all of Montgomery County that is divided up on a formula based on two factors: headcount and miles of roadway to maintain. Then, we may actually start seeing a more level playing field- and decisions based on real factors instead of the ones we’re getting lied to about.

And by the way- there are lawyers still downtown occupying very cool office space you should move your business to if you do business with Thompson Hine- why should you pay for their high dollar office space overhead in your legal bill? Send a message- call them today and ask if they really did this for the right reasons- it may not be too late to change their minds.