Coronavirus: Economic shutdown hitting downtown, region hard

The COVID-19 crisis has had a powerful negative impact on Dayton’s downtown, which had been thriving as development projects bloomed and small businesses opened up shop over the past couple of years, said Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership

She said larger projects like the Arcade redevelopment are expected to have delays but will continue moving forward. But she said restaurants, bars and retail businesses, most of which closed or reduced operations after the state-ordered shutdown in March, are hurting, as are the many people laid off from those businesses.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it. We are getting slammed right now,” Gudorf said. “They are looking at 80 to 90 percent loss of revenue.”

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The partnership's website is hosting an Open Downtown list of restaurants and retail businesses that remain open in some capacity and also lists things to do, she said.

Large downtown gatherings like First Fridays or the partnership’s annual downtown housing tour on May 16 have moved to virtual platforms, Gudorf said. The partnership hopes to host an in-person housing tour later this year.

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Gudorf spoke on Tuesday during the Dayton Realtors economic impact forum held on the teleconferencing platform Zoom. The Dayton Realtors meeting featured a variety of local leaders talking about how their organizations are coping with the crisis.

Jyl Hall Smith, director of government affairs for the Dayton Realtors, said about half of sellers have removed their homes from the market, creating an even tighter market than before the crisis and keeping prices up.

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Montgomery County Commissioner Carolyn Rice and Dayton City Commissioner Matt Joseph said both governments are trying to help people and businesses navigate the health crisis, unemployment, food needs and other problems related to the pandemic even as tax revenues plunge. By law both governments must balance their budgets and the county has already announced $18 million in cuts.

The city is projecting a $34 million shortfall this year and its budget department estimates the impact of the crisis will be three times worse than the Great Recession, Joseph said.

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During and after that recession, the city had hiring freezes, cut contracts and materials, deferred capital improvements and worked with the unions on staffing issues, he said.

Joseph said officials are hoping they won’t have to tap the 0.25% income tax voters approved in 2017 to pay for the Preschool Promise program, infrastructure and road paving.

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He urged people to call for the federal government to provide stimulus money for local governments.

“If you can advocate for all the municipalities, I’d appreciate it,” Joseph said.

Rice said one bright spot is that construction permit applications are doing well.

The county is also reaching out to businesses across the Dayton region through its regional BusinessFirst program, asking how the county can assist them with pandemic-related problems.

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The county's Jobs and Family Services operation is working to help people needing food or jobs and those struggling to navigate the unemployment system. Wi-Fi was expanded to the Job Center parking lot to aid people who do not have adequate internet service and need to apply for help online.

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JobsOhio, the state’s publicly funded private development arm, is offering a variety of loan programs and is involved in obtaining personal protective equipment for businesses, said Mitch Heaton, vice president of economic development for the Dayton Development Coalition.

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The Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce has reached out to all 2,200 members to see what they need, said Stephanie Keinath, the chamber’s director of public policy and economic development. Business owners are reporting great frustration with the federal roll out of Small Business Administration loans that were part of the stimulus bills approved by Congress. She said businesses are also struggling to get personal protective equipment to keep employees and customers safe as the state reopens, and they are concerned about legal liability they may face as they reopen.

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Joseph told the group that he remains optimistic that even though things are bad now, he knows the community will get through this crisis.

“We have the people, the partners and the neighbors to come out the other side OK,” said Joseph. “No matter how intimidating the numbers look we are going to be OK.”

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