Dayton wants to ‘reenergize’ business district in Belmont

An outside consultant is going to put a business district in Dayton’s largest neighborhood under the microscope to try to identify ways to reenergize the area.

If the pilot project is successful, Dayton officials would like to see similar work done in other business districts across the city.

“We want to see how this works and we’re excited to innovate and bring something new to our toolbox, potentially,” said Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein.

The Belmont neighborhood in southeast Dayton has about 9,630 residents, which makes it the largest neighborhood in the city, based on population, says a memo from Steve Gondol, Dayton’s deputy director of planning, neighborhoods and development.

The city recently approved spending $75,000 to hire Cincinnati-based YARD & Company to develop a strategy to better activate the Belmont neighborhood’s business district, city officials say.

YARD & Company will work with neighborhood and community stakeholders to create a branding scheme for the district, said City Manager Dickstein.

This is an innovative approach that will provide a unique kind of planning support, she said.

“Our goal is to energize business districts, hoping to be able to then replicate this program in other areas where we already have assets of a business district that may need some support to elevate to the next level,” she said.

YARD uses physical activation to transform spaces or districts and draw attention to existing assets, the city said.

Belmont’s main business district has more than 50 businesses, and the outer area has at least that many, said Judy Orick, president of the Belmont Business Association.

Businesses are heavily concentrated along Smithville Road and Watervliet Avenue.

The 700 block of Watervliet Avenue alone is home to Blind Rage record store, American Coin & Jewelry, 12 Tone Music Lessons, True Love Tattoo Parlor, Press Coffee Bar, Belmont Catering, Hazy Shade Disc Golf & More, A-1 Trophy Co & Screenprinting and other businesses.

The Belmont neighborhood is at a tipping point, and this activation project is a “big deal,” said Reggie Swickard, who lives on Nordale Avenue.

“Our business district needs a boost — it’s looking rundown,” she said.

Orick said, “We want to keep our history but add to it in new and exciting ways.”

YARD & Company is a creative design and planning practice that “uses place to solve problems,” said Joe Nickol, principal of the consulting company.

Dayton and its partners have done a significant amount of vision planning for neighborhoods and business districts across the city, Nickol said.

YARD can help Belmont and the city incrementally realize those visions, he said.

YARD often helps create a detailed, near-term strategy for beautification, calming vehicular traffic, enhancing walkability and promoting business vitality, Nickol said.

YARD can help develop a district’s identity brand and assist with events, storytelling and marketing, he said.

Huber Heights recently hired YARD & Company to help with urban design, planning and community engagement services for the city’s new comprehensive plan.

The company also has worked on projects in a variety of other Ohio communities, as well as in Memphis, Tennessee; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Kalamazoo, Michigan; Indianapolis; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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