Posted: 12:00 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012

Census: Dayton among worst in U.S. to lose downtown population

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By Cornelius Frolik

Downtown Dayton is gaining new residents, but neighborhoods located within two miles of City Hall saw one of the largest population declines in the nation between 2000 and 2010, according to a new Census analysis.

Dayton neighborhoods located within two miles of 101 W. Third St. lost about about 10,165 residents during that 10-year period, the third worst population loss among the 366 U.S. metropolitan areas, behind only New Orleans and Baltimore, the Census said. The share of residents lost — 20 percent — was the fifth highest in the nation among metro areas.

Causes of the population loss include high levels of foreclosures, the loss of jobs, a mismatch between the supply of homes and the demand, and the abandonment of an aging and dilapidated housing stock, experts said.

But Dayton officials said the new Census report overlooks the real story — population growth downtown — which is crucial to the local economy and could staunch the flow of residents out of surrounding neighborhoods.

“A vibrant downtown is important for stability of those adjacent neighborhoods, many of which are our historic districts,” said Tony Kroeger, a city planner.

Within 2 miles of City Hall, Dayton’s population fell to 41,053 in 2010 from 51,218, a 20 percent decline, the Census said. Based on the 2-mile guideline, the only cities with larger shares of population declines were New Orleans, La. (30 percent); Youngstown (25 percent); Mobile, Ala. (23 percent); and Ocean City, N.J. (23 percent). The only cities to lose more people were New Orleans (down 35,313 people) and Baltimore (down 10,194).

Some of Dayton’s hardest-hit neighborhoods are located within 2 miles of City Hall, and some residents have moved out because of widespread foreclosures, the aging housing stock, people losing their jobs and builders constructing too many new homes for a population that is in decline, city officials said.

Cities grow out from the center, and buildings and houses within the first couple of miles of the downtown core often are older structures that have either been renovated or they are falling apart and obsolete, said Jack Dustin, director with the Center for Urban and Public Affairs at Wright State University.

Many homes near downtown are old and have not been rehabilitated, and values have declined, and some homes have been abandoned or foreclosed on, he said.

“What we need a renewal process, and a rehabilitation process, but instead, we’ve faced a loss of some of our industries, and we still have development that is drawing commercial development and even residential development out of the city,” he said.

But Dustin said new and re-purposed housing in downtown Dayton is attracting new residents, and the addition of RiverScape MetroPark, the Dayton Dragons’ Fifth Third Field and the Schuster Performing Arts Center have helped increase interest in living downtown.

“The downtown is becoming more lively, and when that happens, people begin to think about moving there,” Dustin said. “We are on our way, but the losses did not occur overnight and we will not recover overnight, but over time, I think we will.”

Kroeger said it is important to note that while the neighborhoods located 2 miles from City Hall have seen population declines, downtown Dayton is thriving. He said included in that 2-mile radius are neighborhoods far outside the traditional boundaries of the downtown core, such as Edgemont, MacFarlane, Wolf Creek, Dayton View and McCook Field. In a Sept. 1 article, the Dayton Daily News reported on Census data showing the downtown is the only area of the city that increased in population in 2010 — gaining 567 residents in the last decade, or a 17.2 percent increase.

In fact, Dayton only lost 633 residents between 2000 and 2010 in neighborhoods located within 1 mile of City Hall, falling to 9,182 from 9,815, Census data show. Using the 1-mile measure, Dayton had the 99th largest population decrease among U.S. metros. But expand the scope to within 3 miles from City Hall, and Dayton lost 20,826 residents, the second largest decrease in the nation.

Officials said any population loss is not good, and some Dayton neighborhoods are definitely in transition as residents move out and old houses are torn down. But they said the growth downtown is very encouraging, because the city has made the downtown the focal point of the local economy. They said investments downtown will eventually spill over into the surrounding neighborhoods.

“If you don’t have a city core, then you don’t really have a city,” said Steve Seboldt, chairman of the Downtown Priority Board.

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