Development plans unclear for fairgrounds

A medical facility, performing arts center mentioned as possibilities.

The Montgomery County Fairgrounds won’t provide the University of Dayton with enough land to build a new basketball arena, but the purchase opens a door to the type of business partnerships that UD officials believe could have a huge impact on the local economy.

Officials at Emerson and General Electric — companies that have partnered with UD in recent years — see opportunities with the university’s $15-million fairgrounds purchase with Premier Health, said Beth Keyes, UD vice president for facilities management.

Both GE and Emerson would be interested in seeing a few of the companies they work with open a facility or offices at the fairgrounds, Keyes said.

The 37-acre fairgrounds property is adjacent to where GE and Emerson built new facilities in recent years. Prior proposals for the property, which didn’t involve UD, were a concern to them, said Keyes, because they didn’t know how it would benefit them.

“They were hoping it would support their investment,” she said.

In 2013, GE Aviation opened its $51 million research center on campus and earlier this year Emerson opened its Helix Innovation Center on UD land between South Patterson Boulevard and Ohio 48.

No firm plans for the fairgrounds property have been made public by either UD or Premier Health. But UD officials said the purchase, like the 2014 purchase of the Marriott, reinforces the university’s commitment to GE and Emerson, which train UD students in aviation and climate technology.

Both research facilities are just across the street from the fairgrounds.

In a November interview with this news organization, UD President Eric Spina said while he’s happy with the GE and Emerson collaborations, he is always looking for the next partnership.

UD’s business partnerships with GE and Emerson are what first attracted Spina to the college, he said. After he received a call from a headhunter to see if he was interested in being UD’s 19th president, he said he checked out the school’s website and saw the partnerships highlighted on the homepage.

“Obviously it’s one of the first things I began to dig into as an engineer and someone who really believes in innovative partnerships where people aren’t afraid to do different,” he said.

More possibilities

Both Spina and Keyes talked about the fairgrounds being a “blank slate” of sorts for development.

While the property is not big enough for a new arena, Keyes said UD and Premier Health will probably look for a way to use the land to benefit both entities.

On Monday, Spina would not rule out a joint venture with Miami Valley Hospital, such as a medical-educational facility. UD does not have a medical school.

“We’re not at that point yet,” Spina said about a medical tie-in with the school. ”We’ll add that to the list though.”

UD and Premier Health leaders already work together, which Keyes said helped facilitate the fairgrounds purchase. Premier CEO and president Mary Boosalis and retired Premier CEO Thomas Breitenbach both sit on UD’s board of trustees.

“It’s very helpful to have a true partner when you’re two major employers in the city,” Keyes said.

UD officials in the past have talked about the need for a performing arts center and Keyes didn’t rule out whether the fairgrounds property could house such a center. But UD spokesperson Cilla Shindell said there are no updates on any plans for such a facility.

The university has “a lot of exciting partnerships” that it may try to leverage if it moves forward with an arts center, Spina said in November. “We’re going to make certain we continue to support the arts.”

Growing footprint

The fairgrounds purchase marks the third time UD’s footprint has grown since 2005.

The university purchased 49 acres of NCR land in 2005 and another 164 acres in 2009 when it bought NCR’s headquarters. The purchases increased the size of campus by more than 75 percent.

“It’s very important for us to support our community,” Keyes said. “Like when NCR left, you know, someone had to step in.”

UD would have become “landlocked” by housing and a cemetery if it had not bought up adjacent properties when they became available, Keyes said. Without NCR’s land, the university would not have been able to grow some of its programs and build student apartments.

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, a former Dayton mayor, praised UD’s decision to buy the fairgrounds with Premier Health and said both institutions never seem to “skip a beat” when it comes to redeveloping the city. The fairgrounds purchase, Turner said, will help create jobs and will continue to reshape south Dayton.

“(UD’s) leaders have looked past the campus,” Turner said. “That’s been great for Dayton.”

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