Visitors return to downtown Dayton: COVID rebound is nearly complete

Downtown Dayton visitor traffic is rebounding and getting closer to pre-pandemic levels, and local leaders think there are hundreds of millions of dollars worth of projects in the pipeline that will give people even more reasons to visit the urban center.

“New businesses continue to open and there’s a sense of energy and excitement that continues to emerge,” said Dan Meixner, co-chair of the Downtown Dayton Partnership’s board of trustees. “We’ve seen more activity on downtown streets, more events, a general sense of positivity.”

Through the third quarter of this year, about 5.4 million people visited downtown, according to data shared by the Downtown Dayton Partnership that is based on an analysis of cell phone location data.

More than 6.5 million people visited downtown in 2019, but foot traffic plunged by 48% in 2020 during the first year of the COVID public health crisis (3.3 million fewer visitors).

The urban center then welcomed nearly 4.1 million visitors in 2021 (+21% from year before) and almost 5.1 million in 2022 (+25%).

Downtown has seen a 6% increase in visitor traffic this year, which means it has now climbed back to about 83% of pre-pandemic levels, said Katie Meyer, who is the new president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership.

Dayton downtown has more fully recovered its visitor traffic than other downtowns in some major U.S. cities, Meyer said.

Greater downtown Dayton has seen about $200 million in new private and public investment this year, according to data from the partnership. That compares to about $93 million in 2022; $178 million in 2021 and nearly $97 million in 2020.

This means that more than $2.35 billion worth of projects have been completed in the urban core since 2010, which was when the Greater Downtown Dayton Plan launched.

Meyer said $435 million worth of projects are under construction.

Downtown this year welcomed 196 new housing units, 134 new hotel rooms and 34 new businesses, according to data compiled by this newspaper and the partnership.

About 519 new apartments are under construction and more than 100 others are in the works.

Developers also are working to bring more than 400 new hotel rooms to the urban center.

Downtown leaders say new lodging is sorely needed in the urban core, especially considering that former Crowne Plaza Dayton closed.

The AC Hotel opened earlier this year near Day Air Ballpark, which offers 134 new hotel rooms.

While the health of downtown often is measured in the amount of money invested there, what’s just as important is that those investments create conditions that make people want to live, work and play in the urban center, Meyer said.

“It’s about the experience,” she said. “It’s a combination of social health, economic progress and amenities and connection to place.”

Urban downtowns have gone through some major changes over the years, and Meyer believes downtown Dayton is going to have to evolve once again to keep up with the times.

For instance, many people who use to work downtown now work at home remotely. Many local leaders believe that empty office buildings have a future as new housing.

Meyer said downtown Dayton has an “effortless authenticity” that other communities lack. She said it is a place of innovation, opportunity, diversity and creativity.

The Greater Downtown Dayton Plan was a blueprint that laid out strategies for transforming downtown into a more vibrant place. Meyer and the partnership next year expect to start developing a new plan that charts a new future for the urban center.

Examples of projects completed in greater downtown Dayton in 2023:

AC Hotel by Marriott: $33 million, 134 rooms

Monument Apartments: $26.7 million, 124 apartments

The Sutton: $10.3 million, 71 apartments

Salem Avenue reconstruction phase 2: $5.5 million

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