Wright factories anchor west-side redevelopment

Plan may spur more development. Congress has OK’d part of area for national aviation park.

Whatever development plan is devised for West Dayton, the former Wright Brothers airplane factory buildings will be an integral part of it, say those who are interested in the properties.

The general plan is to make the former Wright Brothers factory — the first American plant to manufacture airplanes — part of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, while finding and nurturing manufacturing and commercial activities around the Wright sites.

What the national park will do with the sites remains to be seen. “This is our 100,000-square-foot blank canvas,” said Dean Alexander, superintendent of the national park, while touring the former Wright buildings Friday.

A private redevelopment firm is involved. And last month, the Clean Ohio Fund approved $3 million toward remediation of the property. According to the fund’s project notes, DPH Holdings — which controls former Delphi properties — has spent more than $588,000.

That money went to environmental assessments, and the group has pledged an additional $1 million more.

Brad White is urban market revitalization leader for Hull & Associates, a redevelopment firm that has offices across Ohio. White and his company work for cities and industrial clients full-time on redeveloping former industrial sites, known as “brownfields.” The company often buys and redevelops brownfields itself. Hull was involved with the University of Dayton’s redevelopment of former NCR Corp. properties, as well as Tech Town business park property.

White said he and his firm’s partners have formed a limited liability company, Home Avenue Redevelopment, to take control of the former Delphi and the former Wright plants south of Third Street and east of Abbey Avenue this summer.

As Hull envisions the work, the firm would acquire the former Wright properties, rid of them of environmental contaminants and then transfer them to the national park.

“We’re acquiring everything,” White said. “So we’re forced by necessity to be interested in all of it.”

Two of the Wright buildings were built in 1910 and 1911. The plants were acquired by General Motors in 1919, and for most of their existence they have been home to auto parts manufacturing, not aviation manufacturing. Delphi closed its nearby Home Avenue plant three years ago.

Hull has worked with the city of Dayton for about a year on a strategy to acquire and develop the Delphi factory properties near and around the Wright factory buildings.

Congress has already legislated that the former Wright buildings will be part of the national park. In 2009, President Obama signed a bill incorporating those buildings and the former Wright mansion in Oakwood, Hawthorn Hill, into the park.

Tony Sculimbrene, executive director of the National Aviation Heritage Alliance — an organization that seeks to preserve and publicize the area’s aviation history — cites national park estimates that developing the buildings for park purposes could cost $28 million to $32 million.

White expects to get the title on the property from DPH Holdings — which holds properties Delphi discarded in its four-year bankruptcy journey — toward the end of this summer.

“We’ve invested our time and effort to do the work we need to do to get to where we are today,” White said.

Hull and the city have a “memorandum of understanding” on the project, but as of yet, no contract, he said.

Hull will acquire about 54.3 acres, bounded roughly by U.S. 35 on the south, Third Street to the north, west of Abbey Avenue to South Upland avenue, with another parcel east of Abbey. All of the former Wright properties are east of Abbey.

Redevelopment must focus on what Sculimbrene called “returning Dayton’s most historical corridor, West Third Street, back to what it was.”

“We have some jewels along West Third Street,” Sculimbrene said.

The site will be more than a homage to history. There is already some manufacturing interest in the area, White said.

Composite materials manufacturer Liteflex has been identified as an end user on about five to seven acres of the former Delphi facility, White said.

“We have all the right people who are interested in helping us,” White said.

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2390 or tgnau@DaytonDailyNews.com.

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