“We are excited to hear that more projects are coming to fruition in the Wright Dunbar commercial district,” said Erica Hubler, director of real estate with Wright Dunbar Inc.
Five Rivers Health Centers is also building a $32 million headquarters in the nearby Edgemont neighborhood.
Going back years, many community members have expressed frustration by what they see as a lack of investment, amenities, and economic and job opportunities in West Dayton, which in the 20th century became the cultural and commercial center of Dayton’s Black community.
A citywide survey released last year found that fewer than four in 10 residents in west and southwest Dayton are satisfied with their neighborhoods.
By comparison, more than three-fourths of greater downtown residents and nearly two-thirds of residents who live in southeastern parts of the city are content with where they live, the survey found.
But for the first time in a long time, millions of dollars in new investment are being put into some historically impoverished and disadvantaged areas in western sections of the city.
On Monday, the West Branch Dayton Metro Library will open, which is a $12.6 million investment in a vacant site at the corner of U.S. 35 and Abbey Avenue, near the historic Wright brothers airplane factory.
The 24,000-square-foot facility replaces the Madden Hills and Westwood branch libraries, which are closing.
This is one of the largest new construction projects in West Dayton in years, but the Dayton Metro Library’s investment goes far beyond bricks and mortar, said Jeffrey Trzeciak, executive director of the Dayton Metro Library.
Library services will support educational and personal growth, he said, and partnerships with community groups will provide impactful programs. Trzeciak said the library was designed to be a community “beacon.”
The West Branch’s opportunity space will be a temporary home to the Westside Makerspace, which is a project of Co-op Dayton, the group that spearheaded the Gem City Market.
The makerspace will host workshops and provide workforce development and entrepreneurship opportunities. The project has been recommended to receive more than $1 million in Dayton’s federal recovery funds.
In partnership with Dayton Children’s Hospital, the West Branch also will have expanded capacity for a children’s meal program and a mobile kitchen cart for nutrition education.
The library has computer stations, a community room, tutor rooms, conference rooms, a quiet reading room, an adult area with a fireplace, an outdoor patio with an interactive play area, and an area for kids and teens with video game systems.
“We hope this new library instills a sense of pride, belonging and welcoming for the surrounding neighborhoods and serves as a catalyst for further development of the historic site,” Trzeciak said.
Dayton plans to spend about $3.8 million of its federal rescue funds to improve the 54-acre former Delphi site, which includes the West Branch library and the Wright brothers airplane factory.
The funds will address critical needs, such as sidewalks, roads and utilities at the site, which leaders hope will be transformed into a community anchor, said Mackensie Wittmer, executive director of the National Aviation Heritage Area.
“The goal is to create a vibrant campus between the library, National Park Service and complementary organizations and companies,” she said.
The National Park Service is more than halfway through its multiyear acquisition of roughly 4 acres at the Wright Co. factory campus, Wittmer said, and it is completing an historical structures report to guide stabilization and restoration work.
The National Park Service in Dayton (also known as the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park) intends to acquire buildings 1, 2 and 17 and some adjacent land for parking and landscaping, she said.
The overall site will serve West Dayton residents with new amenities, Wittmer said, and parts of it are intended to be redeveloped to create new jobs.
The National Aviation Heritage Area has long wanted to attract aviation-related advanced manufacturing or aerospace technology companies to the site, she said.
Dayton expects to spend some of its rescue funds to help stabilize the site and hangars to ensure they do not fall into further disrepair and prime them for redevelopment, said Veronica Morris, Dayton’s economic development supervisor.
The city also wants to beautify the site and improve surrounding roadways and underground utilities, also to support future redevelopment activities, she said.
Morris said, “We plan on doing green space and a walking path onsite, to allow people the opportunity to use it as a community greenspace.”
The city purchased the former General Motors and Delphi site a few years ago.
Delphi closed its plant around 2008, and most structures were demolished on the site, though the buildings that were once home to the world’s oldest airplane manufacturing facility remain.
The site is centrally located in West Dayton and is easily accessible from major roadways, like U.S. 35, Morris said, and the hope is for work to begin in the second quarter of this year.
Less than one mile from the Wright brothers factory site is a new laundry plant that belongs to Economy Linen and Towel Service Inc.
The local company expects to open the facility next month along the 1900 block of McCall Street, near the DeSoto Bass Courts public housing complex.
The plant initially expects to employ about 70 workers but its payroll could double sometime down the line, said Bruce Feldman, the company’s president.
Feldman said the new facility will employ people from West Dayton and the surrounding area.
“We hope that this investment sparks additional development in West Dayton,” he said.
One neighborhood over, in Edgemont, work continues on a $32 million headquarters for Five Rivers Health Centers.
Construction on the 85,000-square-foot facility began in fall of 2020 and the center is expected to have a grand opening around May.
The facility will allow Five Rivers Health Centers to consolidate its pediatrics, internal medicine, dental and women’s health departments, which currently are located in smaller spaces in and around Miami Valley Hospital, said Gina McFarlane-El, CEO of the organization.
The facility will have a drive-through pharmacy, lab and other resources and services for patients under one roof, and about 150 people will work at the center.
“This ‘one-stop shop’ will serve nearly 16,000 of our current patients and allow us to expand and grow to help even more of our neighbors in the future,” McFarlane-El said. “We’ve partnered with the Greater Edgemont Community Coalition and other neighborhood groups to ensure that this health center will be a catalyst for other community development investment in West Dayton.”
Dayton late last year approved giving Trotwood-based Epix Tube a $250,000 grant to support an expansion project at a property on Marion Street, close to the 2300 block of West Third Street.
The company plans to invest $4.5 million to upgrade the empty warehouse and has committed to creating about 60 jobs in the next five years.
These projects and others show there is growing confidence in West Dayton neighborhoods that in the past struggled with disinvestment, Morris said.
Some of these projects are the result of years of work, Morris said, and strategizing to identify investment opportunities.
She said the city helped create a vision for the area by completing a greater West Dayton development plan, a corridor study and leading community conversations.
The city tries to boost interest in properties and areas through infrastructure investments, public-private partnerships and strategic acquisitions, city staff and officials said.
“Our focus on improving critical infrastructure has assisted in making West Dayton attractive for investment,” Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein said. “These types of investments will create confidence in the private sector and build momentum for additional investments, job opportunities and improved amenities in our neighborhoods.”
In the Wright Dunbar Business District, along West Third Street, work continues on a W. Social Tap & Table food hall.
The $2.1 million project at 1100 W. Third St. is turning a conference center into a food hall, featuring a variety of small food and beverage businesses that sell goodies like coffee, alcohol, sandwiches, pizza, tacos and other popular items.
The developer says there may be an update coming soon about a spring opening date.
The food hall will help make Wright Dunbar a destination, said Hubler, with Wright Dunbar Inc.
“We believe the opening of the W. Social Tap & Table, sometime this year, will be the catalyst to many more successful economic projects in the district,” she said.
A few blocks away, the city is trying to find a company to redevelop the former Gem City Ice Cream Co. building at 1005 W. Third St.
The city last month issued a request for qualifications seeking a firm to develop the 1.1-acre site into a “dynamic mixed-use project” that serves as a “focal point” for the community.
The city has received zoning approval to tear down the deteriorating building, though staff hope historic materials will be salvaged and incorporated into a reuse project.
The Wright Dunbar district is a gateway and portal into West Dayton, and the West Third Street corridor is a major artery connecting western neighborhoods to downtown, the city said.
“The Wright Dunbar Business District has been experiencing a progressive reactivation that began in the 1990s,” says the city’s request for proposals for the former ice cream company property. “The last 10 years have begun to see market-driven interest, activity and reinvestment that followed the significant investment of the area from the 1990s to 2008.”
Black History Month
Every Sunday in February, the Dayton Daily News will spotlight local Black businesses and Black artists making a difference in the community. Read more in the Business and Life sections all month long.