The ‘tomato cage’ comes down: Dayton Convention Center renovations kick off

‘This is the beginning of something special;’ $31 million upgrade aims to revitalize downtown anchor

Construction crews on Tuesday began to remove the three-story steel mesh cylindrical sculpture at the entrance of the Dayton Convention Center that was installed as part of renovations completed about 15 years ago.

The demolition work helped officially kick off $31 million in planned improvements that seek to modernize the aging facility and its offerings and boost interest among event planners and conference organizers to rent and use its spaces.

ExplorePHOTOS: Dayton Convention Center ‘facelift’ begins

The reimagined convention center, under its new ownership and operations structure, will be an economic asset that helps create more job opportunities in the region, said Montgomery County Commissioner Carolyn Rice.

“This new model has created an opportunity to turn the Dayton Convention Center into a vibrant, state-of-the-art convention center, and there truly is a market for it,” she said. “We are going to fill a niche that we are just perfect for, and that will be critical to the economic growth of our downtown core and our region.”

The decorative metal sculpture at the convention center’s entrance was installed as part of roughly $2.3 million in renovations that were made in 2006 and 2007.

Those were the first major renovations to the convention center property since 1988. The facility, located at 22 E. Fifth St., first opened in 1973.

Some people loved the metal sculpture. Others jokingly called it the “tomato cage,” the “KFC bucket” and the “egg basket.”

But soon it will be gone completely, and the entrance to the facility will start to look very different.

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

A third-floor terrace will overlook the entryway, which will have attractive landscaping, pavers and park-like elements, officials said. The exterior will get a facelift.

The refreshed convention center will attract and host more shows, graduations, celebrations and conventions, said Walter Reynolds, chair of the Montgomery County Convention Facilities Authority board.

Back in 2015, the city of Dayton and the Dayton Convention & Visitors Bureau commissioned a study to determine if the community really needs and should continue to have a convention center, said Chris Kershner, president and CEO of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce.

The convention center was losing money, and Dayton leaders said the city could not afford to continue to subsidize the facility for much longer.

However, a convention center task force concluded that the facility is a community asset, but it needed to be upgraded to meet the evolving needs of the business community, Kershner said.

The city of Dayton owned and operated the facility until last year, when it transferred ownership to the Montgomery County Convention Facilities Authority.

After the property changed hands, the facilities authority completed some deferred maintenance work and interior improvements.

The group already has invested about $2.5 million into a variety of maintenance and replacement needs, like installing a new bleacher system, new furniture and new carpet.

Leaks in the roof were repaired, and the roof of the skywalk that leads to a hotel across the street and a large parking garage was replaced. But Tuesday was the kickoff for major facility improvements.

In addition to taking ownership of the property, the convention facilities authority now receives revenue from a countywide 3% hotel and motel lodgings tax, as well as the revenue generated from a 3% lodgings tax in the city of Dayton.

A significant share of that money will be put toward renovations.

Kershner said the community and its businesses deserve a convention center they can be proud of that both meets their needs today and will meet their future needs. He said the renovations will make sure that happens.

“What you see today, you will not see tomorrow,” he said. “This is the beginning of something special.”

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