Downtown Revitalization in Dayton, Ohio: Combating Vacancies with Redevelopment

Historically, the downtown core has been the epicenter of economic and social interaction, yet many urban centers have experienced significant decline and sharp increases in vacancy rates. Finding roots in urban renewal practices, changing markets, and suburbanization trends that began roughly sixty years ago, urban vacancy has continued to climb as focus shifts away from city centers.

Vacancy in the City of Dayton, Ohio grew in a similar fashion. Efforts to revitalize the downtown core began in the mid-1990s, however in 2013, real estate studies showed that roughly 33 percent of office space in the central business district and 21 percent of city-wide residential space (roughly 15,000 units) were vacant. Recent Census data shows that the City’s current population is nearly half its peak population of 262,000 in 1960.¹

Dayton Arcade. Used with permission under creative commons;. Source: Google Images
Dayton Arcade. Used with permission under creative commons. Source: Google Images

With several employers relocating from downtown office spaces, City officials and local community leaders sought to continue downtown redevelopment while addressing heightened vacancy levels. Both public and private entities took the reins and promoted several development techniques that would transform vacant and abandoned space into productive use. City-wide programs utilized tax foreclosures, land banking initiatives, and adaptive reuse to spur interest and encourage growth in the downtown market.

Sizth Street Lofts; Source: Sarah Kerns
Sixth Street Lofts; Source: Sarah Kerns

Though many of the programs are still relatively new, the City has made strides in revitalizing downtown. Guided by the Greater Downtown Dayton Plan’s goals, adaptive reuse and rehabilitation has created 16 new “pop-up” shops and activated 40,000 square feet of vacant space since 2011. Furthermore, a $700,000 contract was recently approved to begin improvements in the 10-building, 400,000+ square foot Dayton Arcade building pictured above. Residential development, such as the renovation of the Sixth Street lofts, also pictured above, includes several projects that have generated new development in downtown with occupancy rates of over 96 percent. A recently awarded $3.2 million historic tax credit will also help the Crawford Hoying developers renovate a 214,000 square foot building into 134 residential units and 5,000 square feet of commercial space. Over 200 properties have completed the tax foreclosure process and have been transferred to new owners seeking to make improvements.²

¹Vacancy rates courtesy of Dayton Daily News, the Ohio Conference of Community Development, and the U.S. Census Bureau

²Revitalization figures courtesy of the Greater Downtown Dayton Plan, Crawford Hoying Developers, Dayton Daily News, the City of Dayton, and the Downtown    Dayton Partnership

About the Author: Sarah Kerns is pursuing a Master’s in City and Regional Planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a specialization in housing and community development. Before DCRP, she worked for the Department of Planning & Community Development at the City of Dayton, Ohio. Her professional interests involve community development techniques, downtown revitalization, citizen participation, and affordable housing.