$18M downtown Dayton project planned

An $18 million student housing complex is planned for downtown Dayton at the site of the former Dayton Daily News building and adjacent property, Cox Media Group Ohio announced Wednesday.

Cox Media Group Ohio said it plans to sell the property to the nonprofit United Housing and Community Services Corporation of California, which would partner with Missouri-based Student Suites to build the 350-bed facility just a few blocks from Sinclair Community College.

The 200-apartment development would be the largest residential project downtown in recent memory – larger than The Cannery and St. Clair Lofts, which opened with more than 100 units just over a decade ago – according to Aaron Sorrell, director of planning and community development for the city of Dayton.

“The historical legacy of the Dayton Daily News property will be preserved, and this could bring hundreds of people downtown 24-7,” said Julia Wallace, market vice president of Cox Media Group Ohio, parent company of the Dayton Daily News.

The historic 1908 “bank” building at the corner of Fourth and Ludlow Streets would be preserved and renovated as part of the new complex. The press rooms to the west and the large 1950s newspaper office building attached to the north would be demolished, as would the city-owned Schwind building further north at 25 S. Ludlow St.

In their place, Student Suites would construct a five-story, U-shaped, 200-apartment building wrapped around a courtyard, while retaining the existing 93-space parking lot to the west of the building.

The block of Ludlow Street between Third and Fourth has struggled in recent years, with the newspaper building empty since 2007, the arcade empty for decades, the Commercial Building sidewalk blocked off because of falling window glass and the Schwind building the subject of multiple failed renovation plans.

“This takes a block that has been neglected to a shameful extent and really gives it new life,” said City Commissioner Matt Joseph. “Having residents there, having investment there … you’ve seen it before where a little bit of investment in one place really starts something.”

Wallace said Cox, which moved out of the Ludlow Street building in two stages in 1999 and 2007, will donate $1 million to the project. Sorrell said Dayton City Commission will consider its own $1 million contribution, aimed at acquiring and demolishing the largely vacant Schwind building.

The bulk of the project — $13.5 million — would be financed through tax-exempt bonds, according to Sorrell, with the remainder of the money coming from the developer and possibly a federal historic tax credit. The bonds would be paid off with revenue from apartment rents.

Sorrell said the project would have to be approved by the city’s Landmarks Commission, and might require a variance from the Board of Zoning Appeals.

William Levy, president of Best Management On Campus, which would eventually manage the complex, said developers are in the process of getting bond approvals. He said rent prices for the apartments have not been set yet, but that the goal is to provide affordable housing that gives students at a two-year college a four-year college experience.

“The market is unquestionably there,” Sorrell said. “The market studies that have been done over the years have shown a huge demand for student housing. … This project of 350 beds just scratches the surface of the demand.”

Madeline Iseli, vice president for advancement at Sinclair, called the proposed project “a great complement” that would help better connect Sinclair’s campus with downtown. Under Ohio law, community colleges are prohibited from owning and operating their own housing, but in recent years, Sinclair officials have mentioned the desire to increase student housing options near campus.

Dick Davis, partner at Student Suites, said his company has built student housing in several states, including projects at Central State and Wilberforce. Sorrell said current plans call for 50 one-bedroom units and 150 two-bedroom apartments. Davis said each would have its own kitchen.

Davis said the housing would be restricted to students, but the complex will have other features, possibly including restaurants or food service, and office space, which could be used by Sinclair. He said those plans remain fluid.

If project approvals go smoothly, Davis said demolition and renovation would begin this summer, with the goal being to have student housing available for rent in fall 2014 for the start of the school year. Sorrell called that timetable “ambitious, but doable.”

The Schwind building houses the Moraine Embassy restaurant on the first floor, and Sorrell said Student Suites will be responsible for relocating that establishment.

Wallace said Cox hired an agent, Michael Greitzer, to explore options for the Ludlow property, and he brought Student Suites into the mix. Wallace said Cox has kept Sinclair involved throughout discussions of this plan. She said Cox is committed to the community where the now-national company began.

“We felt a responsibility to the community, and have been working on it for three years, to do something worthwhile with the site downtown,” Wallace said. “To me, this is the best possible outcome. We have the state-of-the-art media center that we need (at 1611 S. Main St.), and downtown gets something probably better than an office building, with people living there.”

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