TY GREENLEES / STAFF

With Dayton Convention Center bleeding red, task force formed

Charting a course for dealing with a downtown convention center that is getting no younger and no cheaper will be the job shouldered by a newly formed task force of regional leaders.

The 21-member task force’s primary job will be to evaluate the city of Dayton-owned center’s current state, its financial position — and its potential for future development.

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The task won’t be easy for the group being led by Dayton City Commissioner Christopher Shaw and Phil Parker, president and chief executive of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce. A 2015 investigation by the Dayton Daily News found that the center has been chronically in the red, slowly draining city coffers.

The center’s $2.9 million budget has been funded with money from Dayton’s 3 percent lodging tax — about $595,000 annually — as well as transportation center parking revenues, charges for using the facility and rent from the chamber, which subleases some of its space to other tenants, the newspaper has reported.

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For about 20 years, Montgomery County kicked in $100,000 a year from its lodgings tax revenue but that ended in 2007.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said city leaders are searching for a partner or for some way to relieve the city of continuing costs that have no apparent end in sight.

“We keep on pouring general fund money into that facility, and that’s just not sustainable,” the mayor said Tuesday.

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Shaw said city leaders need guidance on a number of questions.

“It’s a (chance) to put all the cards on the table,” Shaw said. “That’s kind of where my mind is on this.”

Parker said the task force will embark on its job with no preconceived notions.

“Everything is open for discussion,” Parker said. “There is no set agenda. … We just want to be good stewards of the responsibility that we have been given.”

Among the questions the task force will weigh: Is there is a future use or a different use for the convention center?

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The convention center is the Dayton area’s only large downtown convention center. Jeff Hoagland, president and CEO of the Dayton Development Coalition, said the need for some kind of quality regional convention center is there.

“I believe we need one somewhere in the Dayton region,” Hoagland said.

A city Dayton’s size should have some kind of convention center, Shaw said. But he finds that while other cities of Dayton’s size may have similar convention centers, they don’t necessarily own or operate those centers alone.

If redevelopment of the center costs $28 million, Dayton shouldn’t have to shoulder that cost alone, he said.

“I tend to think the current situation is unsustainable,” Shaw said.

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“We don’t have anything else that can handle larger meetings above 500 or 600 (participants), multi-faceted meetings,” Parker said. “We need to be able to say, if we are going to have a convention center, what is it going to look like in the future, how it will be funded, who will govern it?”

The goal for the task force is to report to Dayton City Commission no later than April, with a recommendation or several recommendations, Parker said.

“The ultimate decision will come down to the city commissioners,” he said.

The first task force meeting will likely happen in mid-January or so.

Whaley said the city has had success with such task forces in the past.

Early in 2016, another task force recommended exploring ways to develop the downtown Dayton Arcade, a process that is now well underway through the partnership of Dayton developer Miller Valentine and a Maryland company, Cross Street Partners.

“We really need to be open-minded about” what the task force recommends, Whaley said.

This new task force is being formed after last year’s feasibility study by Crossroads Consulting Services of Tampa, Fla., which indicated the facility needs major renovations that could cost millions.

Crossroads Consulting Services recommended improvements costing $21 million to $28.4 million, the Dayton Daily News reported in 2016.

The company essentially recommended that Dayton consider giving up control of the facility to a joint Montgomery County-Dayton authority while finding new funding sources.

“We are entrusting the task force to provide a thorough analysis of the facility’s impact to the community and to make a well-informed and objective recommendation for moving forward,” Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein said in a statement announcing the task force Tuesday.

Built in 1973, the convention center has 150,000 square feet of floor space and 77,000 square feet of exhibit space.

The site hosts several tenants including the chamber, the Dayton Region Manufacturers Association and the Dayton Convention & Visitors Bureau.

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