Winners and Losers in Dayton Ohio

“You probably think this song story is about you”

Carly Simon- “You’re so vain”

This story is not about Anthony T. Head, the self-titled “Peoples Chef” although he will surely think it is. It’s about inequality in corporate welfare in Dayton Ohio- and the fallacy that our government has any kind of expertise in “economic development.”

Chef Head, makes a damn good chicken sandwich, I’ve tasted it. He’ll tell his social media followers, of which there are many, that it’s the most amazing chicken sandwich you’ll ever eat. That it costs twice what you’d pay at either Chik-fil-a or Popeyes is immaterial. It’s part of the price of supporting small, independent restaurants. Also- quality costs more. He’s called his place various names, “The Chicken Spot” or “Chicken Head’s”- and he’s had a series of jobs that seem legit, until you realize, that he may have a small bit of George Santos embellishment skills.

I first met him when he was teaching at Ponitz Career Tech running the Culinary Arts program. He was brash, proud, and a great self-promoter, and from outward appearance, he was making a difference in the classroom. He has a passion for being a chef, and teaching others the art of making great food.

However, there is another side to Head that had me debating writing this story.

Direct quote from his Facebook impressum: “My Love is the Culmination of Good Intentions and ***the Exact Opposite When Crossed***

I had to look up the hashtag. From “The abbreviation iykyk stands for the phrase if you know, you know. It is used after a statement or some form of content as a way of indicating that it is an inside joke or a reference to something only a select group of people know and understand.”

That may be why I was also the only one who visited him in the Montgomery County Jail when he spent about a week locked up on a domestic violence charge. Note- teachers usually don’t continue to teach in High Schools once charged with DV. It wasn’t his first act of violence. Back in 2007, Chef Head made the Dayton Daily News for assaulting a police officer (or 5 if you hear a cop tell the story). It’s a very short story:

“A man was arrested Monday, accused of punching a Dayton police officer.

Anthony Head, 28, was arrested after officers were called to a home on Iroquois Avenue in response to a report of a man being down.

Police said that when officers arrived they found Head, who then allegedly punched and shoved a officer down some stairs. The officer was not seriously injured.

Head was charged with assault.”

Having a teacher in Dayton Public Schools who was charged with assault shouldn’t be surprising to readers of this site, they’ve hired superintendents without a proper background check. Just remember, George Santos got elected to congress- you can’t count on anyone for a proper background check anymore. But, this isn’t what this story is about.

It’s about a building at the corner of N. Main and Great Miami Boulevard just North of I-75 in downtown Dayton. Once the home of the late night fried chicken mecca, “Chicken Louies” – where Louie reportedly did millions a year in the space that was built as a chain place (Friendly’s? White Tower?) the location was a proven winner. Ostensibly started in 1958, the building had been fortified over the years- the bullet proof glass in the lobby, the double security doors into the kitchen from the lobby, were put in place as the neighborhood struggled. A shooting in the parking lot in 2006, may have been one of the reasons Louie closed up shop and moved to Miamisburg.

Red area at the bottom of the parking lot is the missing driveway necessary to allow customers to get in and out of the parking lot safely.

Because the City of Dayton is run by the demolition companies and developers, the city “invested” a bunch of money tearing down brick multi-story apartment buildings along Great Miami Boulevard, and eliminating an empty car dealership on N. Main just South of it, and made a huge green space and a newly built winding road to provide nicer access to Grandview Hospital and the Dayton Art Institute sometime after 2011 (Google maps time line). Because Louies was empty, and they wanted to make sure it would also be torn down eventually, they cut off its parking lot from the new parkway, making sure the only way in and out was at the corner of N. Main- where a stopped bus at the bus stop would make entry or exit impossible- as would any cars stacked up at the light.

So, when local business man Brian Higgins (now famously associated with the “Culture of Corruption” non-investigation in Dayton) tried to open up a new chicken restaurant, Quincy’s, in the same spot, he was short the safe access to the boulevard.

Full disclosure: Brian Higgins is a friend, and I did work for him starting around 2010 for his “Sidebar 410” restaurant on 5th street- and continued with Quincy’s when it was on W. Third– all the way to when he moved to N. Main in 2016.

There are no mentions of Quincy’s in the Dayton Daily about Quincy’s- except when he applied for a beer license.

Higgins asked the city to make a curb cut and re-connect the parking lot to Great Miami Boulevard primarily as a safe access for his customers. The city response was to tell him it would cost him $30K. Considering, it took Higgins over a year to get the former restaurant re-opened, due to the damage looters had caused by ripping out the electrical panels and scrapping as much as they could get out the doors- this was insult to injury.

When I saw the $187,000 grant the City was awarding to Head to open in the location Higgins had sunk a small fortune into I thought of other people I know, who don’t have a questionable past, who’ve tried to do development in the city without any taxpayer assistance.

My friend, and former campaign treasurer, James Nunez opened the Texas Beef and Cattle company on W Third Street without a dime from the city. My friend, former Ohio State Football stud, and local banker and community leader John Lumpkin hasn’t had a dime for his plan to renovate and restore the old Chevy dealership at the corner of W. Third and Riverside Drive.

Much of W. Third Streets business district has seen a lot of action lately, since developer Larry Dillin swooped in.

Which leads me to the question, where are the standards, the application process, the evaluation of projects, the equal opportunity for access to the taxpayer trough of public dough?

I don’t see an application on the City of Dayton “Economic Development” page. They have a very long investment prospectus (downloads a pdf- embedded below), selling the city for development though.

While I’ve toiled in the South Park Historic District since 1986 to build a neighborhood that people want to live in, working with the Neighborhood association, rehabbing 5, soon to be 6 properties, starting a for profit neighborhood development corporation, working on marketing and building and hosting the website, as well as fundraising, advocating and even making a half-hour video about the neighborhood with the music of Buckwheat Zydeco, I’ve yet to see a city wide application for development dollars open to all.

I’ve watched others come and try economic development, rehab, restoration, etc with varying amount of either help or resistance from the city. Michael Kern once tried to package properties in the McPherson Town neighborhood to try to restore them all at once- he ended up in jail. Wright Dunbar, was a city driven project, where some homes got a quarter million dollar renovation- only to be sold for half that, and all new sidewalks, streets, lights, and other amenities were recipients of dump trucks full of dollars being dumped into the ‘hood.

Bill Rain was chased out of the Schwind building where the city spent more money blowing it up and making a hole in the ground than Rain had asked for to help move the project along. The subsequent owner, Bob Shiffler got a shiv in the back after doing a wonderful job on the former Chemineer building at 4th and Main.

The Cannery project barely made it out of the gates, with some super bad interventions to complete the tax credit dance. They’d originally planned first floor retail, 2nd floor offices and then apartments above- to balance parking requirements, but supposedly HUD wouldn’t allow the offices- forcing all residential above retail- creating more parking issues.

Winfield Gibson had grand plans for the Fireblocks, that someone else is now implementing after he was pushed aside.

I’ve called Jim Gagnet a one man economic development engine for Dayton. If you need evidence, walk along Pulaski Street by his wife’s restaurant, Coco’s and know that he either rehabbed or built almost every house on the block between Burns Ave and Lincoln street- in addition to his home next to Coco’s and the restaurant. He shares my belief that development is best done where you can throw a football and hit all of your projects, instead of scattering them all over the city. He’s taken on projects others thought impossible and made a difference for decades. He’s had mixed luck with aide from the city, even going bankrupt twice along the way, and coming back from the ashes.

Don’t get me wrong, I want Anthony Head to succeed with his chicken restaurant. However, I can go to Benjamins Burger Master across the street, or Grandma’s up a little bit further- and give my money to folks who’ve had to struggle for everything they’ve got.

The only reason I believe that Head got the money from the city for this project is that part of the project includes purchase and demolition of the house just North of the restaurant. That house used to house African immigrants who were always willing to work for Higgins to help clear the parking lot of debris and kept an eye on the place after hours.

If you pretend you own a demolition company, and look at the actions of the leaders in Dayton, you’d think you were looking at your leading investors. A group of people who seem to think that you can rebuild a city by tearing it down. That’s not how we made South Park one of the most desirable neighborhoods in the city, where “historic zoning codes” preclude demolition in most cases, but, that point is moot. We just don’t hand bags of cash to the politicians either, so, demolition wins

I’ve tried to explain that you can’t demolish your way to prosperity and that even after spending tens of millions and maybe hundreds, we’re still always way behind on demolition. If instead, we’d invested the money helping property owners maintain roofs, gutters, and hold them accountable for the messes they leave, we’d be far ahead. Or, if we’d spent the money on actual city services, or building amenities like swimming pools, or ice rinks, or Sportsplexes instead, we’d be far ahead. People might feel better about investing and preserving what they have if they knew people would want to live there- and not just survive there.

Poverty is the root of almost all of Dayton’s problems. And while we must be careful what we wish for (gentrification isn’t a panacea either), if we spent money on empowering all of our citizens instead of picking and choosing a select few for tax subsidies, we’d be much better off.

Where is the rubric to decide who the winners and losers will be? What are the requirements, where is the application? Because, it’s time to level the playing field, for all. Not just for the best self-promoting chicken sandwich maker.

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