Downtown Dayton dead zones now welcoming shops, restaurants

Several long-empty storefronts in downtown are filling up with businesses due to growing confidence in the economic health of the urban center, local leaders said.

While some vacancies remain, areas that were retail and commercial dead zones around Day Air Ballpark and in the Fire Blocks District are coming back to life with new restaurants and shops. Downtown has so much energy right now because of new housing, dining, drinking, shopping and entertainment options, said Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership.

“It’s a place where small businesses can not only survive but thrive,” she said.

Nearly two decades ago, Relizon opened its new headquarters at the corner of North Patterson Boulevard and East Monument Avenue, across from the ballpark where the Dayton Dragons play.

A parking garage was constructed next to the office building offering about 13,000 square feet of first-floor commercial space that city, company and port authority officials hoped would attract restaurants, retail or other uses.

The plan was to use the rent from commercial tenants to help pay the debt on the construction of the structure. But the ground-floor spaces did not work out as planned.

A restaurant called Zola opened at 219 N. Patterson Blvd. in November 2002 but closed less than two years later. Years after that, a bar called the 88 Club moved into the space but also didn’t last very long.

However, the majority of the street-level space is filled for the first time in more than a decade ― and some of the space is leased for the first time ever.

Winans Chocolates + Coffees opened a new shop at 221 N. Patterson Blvd. early last year, and Flyboy’s Deli last month had a grand opening of its second location at 219 N. Patterson Blvd.

Flyboy’s looked around downtown for a site for its second location for quite some time, including at this space, said Steve Crandall, the company’s founder and CEO.

But that was before all the apartments and housing moved in, he said, adding, “We wanted to see the area explode before moving downtown.”

Crandall said two years ago he accepted an invite from CareSource to explore the space because they were looking for a food establishment to partner with to serve their employees, and he felt it was the right time and right place to expand.

He expects CareSource employees will be the store’s primary clientele, but he also thinks residents and ballpark visitors will provide steady foot traffic.

CareSource has workers in multiple large office buildings that are a short walk from the garage. The company was looking for a coffee shop that would benefit its employees and the local community, and Winans made perfect sense, said Whitney Wedding, franchise owner for the Winans on Patterson Boulevard.

“It’s a great location with its proximity to the Dragons Day Air Ballpark, Riverscape MetroPark, Water Street and much more,” she said.

The space next door to Flyboy’s at 217 N. Patterson Blvd. has never been occupied, but Gulzar’s Indian Cuisine is planning to move in possibly by the fall, said CareSource, which now owns the former Relizon office building and parking garage.

Certain pockets of the downtown retail market are very active, especially around the ballpark, CareSource said, and additional retail should move in as new attractions come online, like the Dayton Arcade and new hotels.

“As for the retail landscape in that area of downtown, the increase in residential units and the recently constructed hotel would have to be the main drivers for the uptick in retail,” the managed health care provider said. “Retail tends to follow the population.”

Hundreds of new apartments have come online around the ballpark, and many new units are under construction. Downtown’s first newly built hotel in decades opened up the road from the parking garage a few years ago, and two more new hotels are planned at nearby locations.

The garage now has just one street-level space left, at 215 N. Patterson Blvd, which also has never been filled.

Blocks south of the parking garage is the Fire Blocks District, which is a collection of commercial and office buildings centered on the 100 block of East Third Street that are being redeveloped by Columbus-based Windsor Companies.

The 100 block of East Third Street for years has had a string of empty storefronts on the north side of the street, and the south side also had significant vacancies.

But the district has been reinvigorated after Windsor renovated the upper floors of the buildings into housing and offices, and new tenants have moved into the ground floor spaces.

Salt Block Biscuit Co. opened for business at 115 E. Third St. last fall, and a restaurant called Jollity opened in late spring at 127 E. Third St.

Third Perk Coffeehouse & Wine Bar earlier this year moved into 146 E. Third St. from another downtown location that became the new home of Grist.

A new bar called Bozacks plans to open at 142 E. Third St., the former home of Binger’s bar, which closed in late 2016.

A new business called Two Social is preparing to open at 123 E. Third St. that will have a full-service bar and games activities like axe throwing, bocce ball and a video game wall.

The Fire Blocks District still has at least eight empty storefronts and ground floor spaces.

A space at 110 E. Third St. is being vacated by Wells & Co. Custom Tattoo, which is relocating to the 9300 block of Dixie Drive in Vandalia.

Wells & Co. opened about five years ago and was the first new business to open in the district since its rebranding, said owner Chad Wells.

Wells said parking is scarce near the East Third Street shop.

“We had free attached parking for most of our stay on Third Street but recently that parking has been taken away,” said Wells, who said his shop tries to create a spa-like environment.

Other clusters of storefronts in other nearby parts of downtown are mostly occupied.

Most of the ground floor spaces in St. Clair Lofts, just south of the Fire Blocks, have tenants, though there has been some turnover. A few businesses continue to thrive, like Twist Cupcakery, but others have closed and been replaced.

Newer additions include Choice Juice Boxx and Varsity House; Vidia’s Closet; and La’Ren 143.

Storefronts in the ground floor of the Cannery Loft Apartments on the 500 block of East Third Street are occupied.

The Wheelhouse Lofts on the 200 block of Wayne Avenue still has vacant commercial space but it also has welcomed new tenants: Connect E-Sports, a competitive gaming business and the Entrepreneur Connection, a hybrid business hub/academy.

Downtown has seen robust growth in new housing and residents, and that is very attractive to retail and food and drink establishments since it provides a seven-days-a-week customer base and steady foot traffic, said Gudorf, with the Downtown Dayton Partnership.

Windsor’s vision for the Fire Blocks has come to life, Gudorf said, and the area around the ballpark has been a hotbed of activity because of investments by the Water Street District developers.

Since 2010, more than 133,700 square feet of first floor space has been occupied in the Central Business District and along East Third Street, according to data from the partnership.

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