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The boys in the back room are bickering (now exposed)

When I started out in politics in Dayton, I often said that Dayton was run by a boys’ club, who decided who would run for office, what would get funded etc. Tom Danis was one of the ringleaders, others ran Mead, NCR, Standard Register- they met at the Dayton Bicycle Club- conveniently next door to City Hall. They even had a full time lobbyist. They went by different names over the times- but when I started it was the Dayton Business Committee. Before that, it was the “All Dayton Committee” or some such.

Now, almost all the business has left town. The big boys aren’t around- and we still have some people who think that they can “operate” from behind the curtain. Political party bosses, labor leaders, a few “developers” and maybe a banker or two.

It’s not working any better than it did then- bad decisions are still being made- but, now, thanks to the magic of the Internet you can see the arguments via passed-along e-mails.

It started with Mayor Leitzell’s former buddy, “developer” and saver of Cities- David McDonald- chair of the Mayor’s “Leadership Council” sending an e-mail that I don’t have out to a distribution list. If you have a copy- please forward it.

[UPDATED SECTION] after reading McDonald’s note- I’m surprised that it generated the back and forth it did- He’s pretty much on the money.

Subject: Reuse Study for 8 Downtown Buildiongs / Open Letter
Good Afternoon:

I read with great dismay that you have approved yet another study to be conducted in the City of Dayton. The front page of the Dayton Daily News today talks about the greatly reduced number of fire and police officers. Please consider cancelling this study and spend the $94,000 on police and fire employees or on economic development that makes sense. Closets at the city are full of studies that have accumulated for years, and never been acted on. They were virtually all performed with good intentions or so elected officials could “appear” to be doing something. Nothing of significance has ever been accomplished from decades of studies. This one will be no exception.

Let me tell you in advance what the study will suggest: The citizens want retail, restaurants, entertainment and most of all a grocery store. With 39 years of “hands on” experience, let me tell you that retailers, restaurants, grocery stores, and most entertainment venues do not pioneer. That means that it is not a “chicken or the egg” event. These businesses only move in when the trend is for residents to be moving in – and already be living there in sufficient numbers to justify their businesses. That is not currently happening in Dayton. The city has tried before to “buy” restaurants, and it has never worked. Office building uses won’t work – not when our office building vacancy rate is worse than Detroit’s for three years running. (Source: Integra Realty Resources IRR – Viewpoint 2011, Page 11). That leaves residential, and for Dayton that is an exceptionally bright spot. Well, if the only bright spot is residential, and we now have sites on the river that could be made to work, why would you not just focus on those and save your money? For once, instead of conducting surveys and studies, actually do something! Supposedly the outcome of this study is to determine what can be done with these buildings. The important point here is not what a building could be used for, but who is going to do it? I mean what developer are you going to force to rebuild old buildings that have no views of anything except pavement and bricks & mortar? Let me cover the term “mixed use”. It is such a “hot” term now. Everyone is using it. Do you know what it means? Office, retail, restaurants, grocery stores, entertainment and residential. Thats it! No more categories. These categories are all ruled out except for residential, so lets stop using that term and move right into residential development. For that, you need direct contact with developers to see what they think will work – not consultants to tell you what would be “ideal”. Either residential will work in one of these buildings or nothing will – at least for now. Of course you could add some office – maybe, but you would be cannabilizing other buildings in the core. Do you want to do that? By the way, the Dayton Region Developers Committee is already ahead of you on this one and the city is helping.

Several years back, the Downtown Dayton Partnership asked 10 architects to come up with plans for ten older buildings. Earl Reeder showed a rendering of a redeveloped Price Stores Building that was outstanding! It was about the best I have ever seen. Know what follow-up there was by developers on this or any of the other buildings? None. Now you want to do the Price Stores Building all over again? If you don’t focus on a few large, trophy residential projects downtown, and begin demolishing some of the older, eyesore buildings – and soon, our city’s core is gone. More people than I care to think about think Thompson Hine’s departure was likely the “straw that broke the camel’s back” for the city. If it was not, we are very close. I do not want to see that happen! Do you five commissioners want to be labeled as one of the leaders who oversaw the total ruin of one of our nation’s largest cities? You are heading there fast, and you are using the same old ideas and practices that have gotten our city into its current mess.

David McDonald

I don’t see the personal attacks that I was told were involved-  in fact, either Riordan has a really thin skin or there is something funky about this whole deal- because- the back and forth that I had reported earlier- was more heated than this note should have generated. If the above isn’t the e-mail that was sent to Riordan- let me know.


Unbelievably- Tim Riordan decided to reply to Mr. McDonald, and it’s almost as sad:

He sent it out to a bunch of people:

Date:    6/3/2011 1:24 PM
Subject:    A Short Note
To All,
This note is in response to one that David McDonald sent out to a large “undisclosed list” criticizing a City development action.  I hate to bother you with this, but his note included so much fantasy that I just didn’t want to leave it out there without a proper response.
Unfortunately, since David didn’t copy us in and we don’t have his list,
I am copying a bunch of people, and I include you in our response.
Thanks.  Tim Riordan


There you go again: SHOOT, READY, NO AIM!

As I read your note, I smiled and was reminded of growing up in Wisconsin and how in deer-hunting season we painted cows with a sign that said ‘not a deer.’ While you wrote a great note about what I can only assume is a fictional contract, unfortunately, it had nothing to do with the contract the City approved. You shot the cow.

  1. The primary purpose of the contract (an adaptive reuse study) is to identify opportunities to reposition some of our obsolete downtown office buildings in the Main Street Corridor and repurpose them primarily with housing units. Given the more than 90% occupancy rates with our downtown housing, we are interested in more housing product to build on the existing successes. None of this is easy.
  2. Earlier, similar efforts helped to reposition older, obsolete buildings such as Second Street Market, Cooper Lofts, the Cannery, Ice Avenue Lofts, the Hawthorne School in McPherson Town, the Firefly Building, and the St. Clair Lofts, just to name a few. These all turned out pretty good and leveraged about $100 million in investment.
  3. The RFP for this contract was issued November 2010, long before Thompson-Hine made their departure announcement.
  4. The project team encompasses architectural, engineering, environmental and developer expertise. The scope of work includes technical analyses of current building conditions – typical pre-development activities. It is a little unusual for us to do this, but given such a soft market, I felt it is worth it.
  5. Nowhere in the scope will you find the words market study or citizen survey. Did you even read the contract? Really? I know you didn’t talk to anybody in City Hall.

From my perspective we are trying to build on an area of success in downtown – housing and its more than 90% occupancy rate. None of these sites will be easy to complete because financing is still so difficult, but providing more information to potential developers better defines the risks they need to overcome in the development process when financing is more readily available.

And finally David, I do challenge you to put your money where your mouth is and actually do a development in Dayton to show us how it is done. I would love to celebrate a grand opening with you and have you say to us –“  I told you so.”

Your Friend,

Tim Riordan
City Manager

Mr. McDonald replied with venom, pretty quickly:

Date: 6/3/2011 4:15 PM

Subject: Re: A Short Note

Tim, you remind me of a would be “old sage” who never really learned what was important in the world, and continued year after year to preach the same tired and failed initiatives as if they were gospel. I am not particularly into cows – especially shooting them, but it was a cute story. Here is my story: We have a city, that you preside over, that has an office building vacancy rate that is worse than Detroit, for three years running – and getting worse. We have city employees (that work for you) that are actually running some businesses out of town – directly or indirectly and/or not effectively helping them to stay (Tissue Center, Levin Foundation, New Page, Woolpert, Frankos, O’Neill & Assoc., Thompson Hine, Gibson Law Offices, etc.). We have an “average capitalization rate” for the city that is worse than Detroit’s for three years running, and to clarify, that makes new development very, very hard. We are short on police, fire and general services. We are continually written up by Forbes Magazine, and it is not good. What are you doing that is truly turning this around? You are doing nothing except more studies, and managing the downturn, and you do that well. However, you have not a clue how to create an upturn. I fully realized that in a Mayor’s Leadership Council meeting months ago when you had a hard time grasping the concept of and need for free parking. It is also interesting that you were in city management in Cincinnati when 3CDC was formed by local CEO’s because local government was not doing anything to prevent a significant downturn. I think you are a very good man. I mean that, but you are totally wrong for the job of running Dayton. Running Dayton is big business, and we need someone with very significant business experience – and with new ideas. The old ideas have all failed. All of them.

You would tend to try and distract us from the real issue here by trying to say you are not doing another useless study. You are in fact spending $94,000 for another study that will get lost in the works. You feebly try to take credit for some of the residential development downtown. OK, I will blindly give you a little credit, but you have failed on everything else, and you were not the developer on any residential projects, were you?. You would be amazed at the number of people in this region who passionately agree with me. Why would anyone on this earth agree with you – other that your employees, when they look at the deteriorating condition of this city? And it continually gets worse! Your term “project team” sounds just great, but again, what developers are you going to force to redevelop old buildings with no view?

Maybe I will and maybe I won’t be responsible for any development happening downtown, but I am trying new and innovative approaches, and I have drawn the attention of a number of very significant people who actually have the ability to make things happen. You on the other hand apparently would try to diminish the value of anyone who comes in to take a strong position on fixing things. As it stands now, you and the commissioners may go down in history as overseeing the dismantling on one of the largest cities in the US. I have looked at Dayton’s business exodus over the past 10 years. It is a little different every year, but given the 10 year average, the office building vacancy rate in Dayton will be at or about 50% in 4 to 5 years. That will certainly do us in. Take your “old sage” mentality and your cows and go destroy another city!

You are a disappointment Tim. Do us all a favor and retire.

David McDonald

I agree that spending money to do studies is a waste. The problems of adaptive reuse, and the challenges in making projects fly in Dayton is the biggest obstacle out there. If you need to know how difficult it is to make things happen, talk to some people who tried to do the conversions. I’m friends with Bill Rain- who did the Lofts on St. Clair, the Ice Lofts, and was a founding partner on the Cannery. I remember the levels of angst he endured to try to take the pigs’ ears and turn them into silk purses. Dayton doesn’t make it easy.

But, remember- the City Manager works for the Mayor and the Commissioners, who are supposed to set strategy and provide oversight. Unfortunately, none of them ever really challenge the Managers programs, or hold him or his staff accountable. The Kroger deal should have seen someone get fired. Instead- they are still in charge.

Just bringing residents back downtown isn’t enough to transform our city. We need things for these urban bohemians to do- places to hang out, eat, shop, drink. We need to bring energy and vibrancy back downtown. However, none of this is going to be possible while there is still a fire sale going on with major buildings being sold at fractions of a penny on the dollar. We need some real strategy- and we need leadership that isn’t telling stories about painting on cows.

If both Riordan and McDonald want to see how it’s done- they need to look at Cory Booker in Newark NJ- leadership, hammering away at solving basic service issues. You don’t get to be a 3-star restaurant by doing studies on food- you do it by delivering amazing service, value and taste.

This tasteless exchange shows the pettiness of those who run our town and those who think they should run our town. Unfortunately, neither have what it takes, IMHO.

What do you think of this exchange? The mayor is already distancing himself from McDonald. But that’s the least of his problems. First and only thing we should be trying to solve is how to hire police and fire back up to strength, everything else is a distraction.


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larry sizer

Good article David, but the biggy to me is more jobs, you have to have an income to live downtown, the edge of town, or just live. The Neighborhood Leadership Institute had us meet and hear all of the proposals that were in the works in Dayton, and it was all about condos and housing, with small shops. We need factories that have mono-rails and grease fittings, not more small food restaurants.

I talked to the Mayor Thursday night and informed him that the Neighborhood Leadership Institute could have done the same thing if not better than we are going to get from the 94 Grand consultants, and we would have done it for free. I still say that to bring the inner city people together is a dog park, every town and city surrounding Dayton has one, but they are going to spend over $100,000.00 to tear out a dam so a few people can kayak. I wonder what the ratio is for dog owners and kayak people?


David Sparks

A dog park will bring things together ? Really ?

Ice Bandit

…it’s not a little ironic, Drexel Dave, that Toby Barlow was wearing a shirt bearing the name Downriver. That tag is hung on the three, mostly white and working class neighborhoods south of downtown along the Detroit River; Ecorse and Wyandotte in particular. And there are blocks where you’d swear you were in Drexel…..

Jeff Dziwulski

What do I think?   

Riordan opened himself up with that cheap shot at the end of what reads like press-release speak.

And then McDonald let him have it.

Flame War!

I used to be a critic of the good-old-boy approach to urban governance but it does seem to work elsewhere.  Louisville (as usual, with me) is a good example.  The reason it works there is that the local establishment, the movers-and-shakers, put up the money to make things happen.   To the point of local heiresses writing $2M checks at meetings to kick off fundraising for projects like that riverfront park they built.

This used to happen in Dayton, as recently as the 1990s, with Victoria Kettering putting up a lot of the money to restore the Victory Theatre (Victroy–>Victoria.  As in Kettering?), and the cooperation to get the Shuster Center built (though the money was mostly from the state of Ohio).  I think the CEO of Reynolds & Reynolds was another example of a local business leader committed to the city, since it was under his watch that R&R did that renovation of the Ludlow Street buildings into a training center.  I think Holmes had something to do with Riverscape, too. 

Maybe there has been some sort of changing of the guard?   There doesn’t seem to be much interest in saving the city anymore.

BTW, with McDonalds e-mail, look at what he says and not how he says it.   His comments have been made before.  Back about maybe 3 years ago or so, say in 2007/2008, the city brought in an out-of-town consultant to look at ED and business retention and the consultant pretty much reamed the set-up here.  And also added that there needs to be a serious focus on bringing back downtown.   But no serious action was taken to implement the consultants recommendations.   The political will was not there.

I keep on thinking of this book, which almost sounds like what is happening to Dayton. 

Why the Garden Club Couldn’t Save Youngstown: The Transformation of the Rust Belt

..a version is available via PDF, too.   Might be worth a look if you want to read about local good old boy networks and how they fail or suceeed.


Jeff Dziwulski

Detroit Lives…..riffing on that Rustbelt Chic meme.

Yeah, I got a taste of that when I was up there last year around this time for that US Social Forum.  I knew some Detroiters who were labor activists from the Billy Bragg fan site, and they gave me an after-hours tour of the city, catching some of that stuff that Knoxville is featuring.  (BTW I had a Caddy like Knoxvilles, except it was a hardtop).

The point of that set is “Sisters are Doing it for Themselves”….things are popping up organically and the place is like like a frontier…not a metaphorical one but a literal one since so much is empty or quasi-abandoned now.   Dayton is not quite that loose yet, though it will probably get there if you project the trends.   

Note too the folks in Knoxvilles video are not the “Most Metroids”…they are not somewhat affluent
urban professionals. 

They are more indie, more hardscrabble and lower income.   More likely to live off Xenia Avenue than in a pricey loft conversion, or run punk houses like they used to have in East Datyon.

Bubba Jones

This used to happen in Dayton, as recently as the 1990s, with Victoria Kettering putting up a lot of the money to restore the Victory Theatre (Victroy–>Victoria.  As in Kettering?) – Jeff D.
Jeff – her name was VIRGINIA Kettering, not Victoria.  So, no, the theater was not renamed in her honor.  If I remember correctly, the building was known as the Victoria Theatre until after WW-II when it was renamed “Victory.”  When the building was being restored it was decided to revert back to that name.


Good read…   As a suburbanite, this read and example ties into the recent blurb in DDN about Louisville and how “metro” services and regionalism could help a struggling area regain excellence.  People in the city bash me for holding back in relation to regional cooperation with many services because of this.  There are too many inept people serving the core, that will find a way to the lead of management if Montgomery county were to have regional forms of government.  The suburbs, traditionally, have found ways to elect or appoint competent leadership, while the City has major players that are a band-aid to seal up a gashing wound.  I know many public employees for Dayton, and they are dedicated individuals that take pride in their jobs.  But to say that I want to sacrifice by quality of life in the suburbs, to regain regional excellence, is silly.  Regionalism will only work if current services aren’t sacrificed in certain areas to improve services where they aren’t  so good.  Right now, this isn’t going to happen, because those failing services are being subsidized by the burbs (Regional Dispatch for example)…and eventually those that thought it would be a good idea are going to see increased rates and fees that are unimaginable.  Good idea on the surface…bad execution and implementation in the end.  Those that have retained services are putting forth an excellent product to their communities, at a lower cost.   We want development in the City.  We want downtown to be like a Columbus, Indianapolis, or Louisville.  But right now, there is nothing going on but wheel spinning.  I grew up in the Suburbs and remember going downtown frequently growing up, remember not going down shortly thereafter, and now wish that the powers to be would shit or get off the pot.   I know this is a little off track from the original article, but I feel examples such as this are why the majority (burbs) are reluctant to cooperate with City and County officials when it comes to regionalism.  Regional cooperation has been in effect somewhat in relation… Read more »

Stephen Lahanas

It seems to me that perhaps the single most daunting problem we’re facing with the region is the inability for all the major players to adopt a common sense mind set. We’re over-thinking this – the starting point for downtown and the region is what it has always been and will always be – we need a major (as large or larger than the green) entertainment / retail complex downtown.

This would be something designed to complement and extend the other cultural advances that have been made – but everyone needs to realize that a downtown or a region cannot be fueled by culture alone. Real world example – my family has been to the Schuster Center once in maybe two or 3 years. In that time we’ve gone to Newport on the Levee 30 times. And guess what – the neighborhoods around the Levee are worse than Downtown Dayton. We go there because we enjoy having something to do and the river is nice – yet we could have all that here. How hard is this to figure out?

What we need is a starting point – one that would allow us to build atop – we need some positive momentum; that’s the only thing which will allow us to merge from the current death spiral. One project – one goal – we truly revitalize the downtown by making a destination again – only then will the jobs follow.


The Dayton Development Coalition has promoted an insider to become the new president and CEO. Is anyone else not surprised at this decision? Would the  county administrator and the politicians consider someone who might shake up the organization and do away with local cronyism? What ever happened to “fresh eyes”?  Why bother with the pretense of a search committee?   

Will Brooks

@David E. – Have you read Saving America’s Cities, by McDonald?

Will Brooks

David you should give it a read before casting it down and saying the author doesn’t get it.

Stephen Lahanas

Just a note on the parking question – does anyone here really think that Columbus, Cincinnati, Washington DC, San Francisco or New York have had to provide free parking in order to stimulate investment or encourage people to go to those respective downtowns? If anything, free parking would be an indication of economic decline / stagnation. The parking situation has absolutely nothing to do w/ our decline or the inability to turn it around.
People do not come to a downtown because of parking – and if there are things to do and places to work in a downtown some will make parking parking available. That’s the way it works everywhere, period.
The debate on parking in Downtown Dayton (for 2 decades now) has been nothing less than absurd. The parking garage debate for the airport was a legitimate discussion but of course there was and should not be any expectations for free parking there either.
Again we’re seeing an inability to focus on the real issues and the real solutions…


I’m not defending Riordan so don’t take it this way, but playing the skeptic, did you really get an unadulterated copy of McDonald’s original email ?


Interesting.  The open letter is similar to the points he made in the Oakwood paper    http://digital.turn-page.com/title/6683 Page 4.    
though they have a slightly different feel.   It’s my understanding that the previous DDP studies were a lot of pretty design pictures and some bullet points, but the new City-sponsored studies are to include spreadsheets and adding machine tape — actually figuring out the costs of potential redevelopment.    That would be a worthy next step, since no developer has signed up yet.   If the numbers truly make sense, they’ll be able to find developers to do the projects.   I’m not sure why there is some overlap (versus “full” overlap) between the two lists of buildings for the two studies, though.