Centerville’s $10 million Uptown plan has gained momentum, fueled by a handful of actions, most coming in recent weeks.
Salar Restaurant and Lounge’s decision to expand from Dayton’s Oregon District and invest in the heart of Centerville “is exactly what we’re looking for in Uptown,” said Patrick Beckel, who operates two of the nearly 100 businesses in the area.
Salar’s announcement this week follows business incentives to revitalize the area, a nearby land deal and a push to create an entertainment district in the city.
All are ingredients in a multi-year, phased plan to rejuvenate Uptown — a corridor of small businesses — with a project designed to transform the historic town center and an area north and south of the intersection of Main and Franklin streets.
The city wants to bid the estimated $2.5 million first phase by the end of the year with construction starting next spring, Centerville Development Director Michael Norton-Smith said.
The other two phases are scheduled for 2023-25 and 2024-26, respectively, city records show.
“We already have a couple of very good anchors in the district,” he said of City Barbeque and Graeter’s Ice Cream. “A couple of the them are really kind of shining stars, and we’re just trying to create (an area) where they can continue to be prosperous.”
Among the aims of the Uptown plan are to improve walkability, traffic flow and parking while increasing business development and greenspace.
Entertainment district push
Beckel is part of that effort. The owner of Beckel’s Humidor and The Aficionado on West Franklin has applied to create an entertainment district.
Fewer than five Uptown businesses have liquor permits, Norton-Smith has said. Approval for that designation could significantly expand that number, with as many as 15 new ones, according to the city.
“We’ve been trying to do something in Uptown for quite a while,” Beckel said.
Uptown has several high-end shops and eateries, he said. But Beckel wants to see “a more vibrant crowd there — more well-to-do, higher-end group. We already have the very nice boutiques — things like that — some very nice high-end restaurants.
“So, we wanted to make it a place that was going to be walkable, where people could come hang out,” he added.
The city sees an entertainment district “as a mechanism to enhance the existing commercial activity we have,” Norton-Smith said.
“We definitely have a shortage of the type of businesses that would normally be associated with an entertainment district,” he added. “But we think that by establishing the district, it is actually an opportunity for us to attract more of those types of businesses because we’re eliminating a barrier that currently exists.”
Beckel said he hopes his entertainment district application will eventually lead to the establishment of a Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area, or DORA.
The Uptown construction plan focuses on the immediate area near the Ohio 48/Franklin intersection. It’s commonly known as the Architectural Preservation District and is home to several structures more than 100 years old, including Salar’s planned site at 57 W. Franklin.
But the Uptown area stretches along Ohio 48 from Alex Bell Road and south to Spring Valley Pike, said Centerville Communications Director Kate Bostdorff.
Beckel credits Centerville City Manager Wayne Davis’ work on the Uptown plan. He compared it to the job Davis did in a Cincinnati suburb before becoming Centerville’s top administrator in 2017.
“He turned around downtown Montgomery and made it one of the most amazing places,” Beckel said.
“You can walk around. Everybody hangs out down there on the weekends now,” he added. “The whole goal is to do the same thing here with the Uptown project.”
The work is being done in phases because “we just believe that you start out and make the investment on the public side with a corresponding investment on the private side,” Davis told the Dayton Daily News earlier this year.
“Then we believe that momentum will be generated … We believe we’ll be in good shape and we’ll get corresponding private investment that will be generated through the public investment,” Davis added.
Uptown Upgrades is an incentive program Centerville announced earlier this year to help promote business investment in the area.
The city will offer funds for certain property improvements through grants and forgivable loans. Beckel has plans to rebuild and expand the deck at his West Franklin Street operations, a project he said would cost about $100,000.
‘Lucky with timing’
Centerville has not awarded any Uptown Upgrades projects so far, officials said. But Salar co-owner and executive chef Margot Blondet cited the program in the restaurant’s announcement “to invest in our future and contribute to the transformation of Uptown into an upscale, walkable destination for leisure activities such as shopping and fine dining.”
The city last month announced it was buying a 0.2-acre parcel at 54 W. Franklin for $125,000 to be used for “future development or municipal services,” records show. A decision has not been made about how the land will be used, Bostdorff said this week.
The Uptown project was not a factor in Jeffrey Neace’s plan to open the Dayton-area’s first Whit’s Frozen Custard in Centerville.
“I got really lucky with timing,” said Neace, a University of Dayton grad who hopes to open the business this fall.
Neace said he bought the former service station at 199 N. Main through an online auction, citing its proximity to several schools, churches and Bill’s Donuts.
“And then a week or two later they announced the Uptown investment project,” he said. “So I felt lucky that I bought the building … I feel like I’m going to benefit from it greatly.”
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