City, nonprofit group seek $5 million for pavilion

Dave Hall Plaza would offer free concerts not designed to compete with paid venues.

A new nonprofit group with support from the city of Dayton is embarking on a $5 million fund-raising campaign to reconstruct Dave Hall Plaza downtown into a family-oriented music venue for free concerts.

The venue would join a network of nine "signature" free concert sites sponsored by the national Levitt Foundation. The sites are known as pavilions and have the larger goal of building good will and community by showcasing music acts that have broad appeal, said Interim City Manager Shelley Dickstein.

Levitt would contribute 10 percent of the construction costs, or up to $500,000, followed by half the operating costs the first year. The annual contribution would decline thereafter. It’s hoped the pavilion could open as soon as July 2017.

Operating a Levitt pavilion costs about $500,000 annually. The foundation provides $500,000 in seed funding for construction and capital expenses and support resources. The foundation said it provides $1 million in the first five years of the pavilion’s operation.

After that, the foundation will provide about $150,000 annually in ongoing operational support to a nonprofit group formed to oversee the venue. Other cities that have pavilions include Los Angeles, Pasedena, Calif.; and Memphis, Tenn. Denver is preparing to build an amphitheater.

It’s expected that the music acts will be similar to those featured at the former City Folk Festivals such as jazz, ethnic music, bluegrass and folk. The reconstruction of the park would include a stage and landscaping to allow up to 1,000 people to attend, Dickstein said.

The venue is not intended to compete with other music venues in town that attract a paying audience, including Canal Public House or Fraze Pavilion, Dickstein said.

The city of Dayton, which owns Dave Hall Plaza, would be a partner that provides some services free of charge, including maintenance and groundskeeping.

But the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation only provides direct funds to independent nonprofit groups, which must be formed to be in charge of programming and administrative responsibilities.

In late November, a nonprofit group named Friends of Levitt Pavilion Dayton filed its articles of incorporation with the Ohio Secretary of State. Fund-raising activities are already underway, but the official kickoff is expected early next year, officials said.

The Levitt Foundation’s mission is to connect community members through free outdoor concerts. The foundation requires its partner pavilions put on at least 50 free professional performances each year.

The signature Levitt program includes developing permanent outdoor music venues in public spaces in need of invigoration and that are located in communities with a lack of comparable access to free arts programming, said Sharon Yazowski, executive director of the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation.

Dave Hall Plaza is an ideal spot for a future Levitt Pavilion because the park and this part of downtown is accessible to a wide range of socio-economic groups, Yazowski said.

There is strong potential for this cultural asset to make a significant social and economic impact on downtown, she said.

“As with all Levitt-funded creative place making projects, Levitt Pavilion Dayton in Dave Hall Plaza will amplify community pride; enrich people’s lives through the power of free, live music; and illustrate the importance of vibrant, public spaces,” Yazowski said.

Sandy and Michael Bashaw were part of an exploratory committee that has spearheaded bringing a pavilion to Dayton. The Bashaws are local artists and musicians and known for their group Puzzle of Light.

Committee members have visited Memphis’ pavilion and met with Levitt staff.

Sandy Bashaw said the experience convinced her that a Dayton pavilion must become a reality. She said the pavilions provide a space that nurture diversity and break down economic and cultural divisions. She said the programming will draw community members from all walks of the region.

“When you sit next to somebody and enjoy an arts event like that, you begin to feel differently about them and you have a shared experience,” she said.

Not only does Levitt provide funding, the organization also provides technical and operational expertise to ensure its network of venues succeed, Bashaw said.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said the city’s pavilion is distinct from other music venues because it is free and will have diverse offerings. She said creating quality public spaces will stregthen the city’s core. Whaley said the community raised millions of dollars for the RiverRun project during the height of the recession, so she’s confident this project will happen.

“We know that if we’re going to drive housing and bring development we want in downtown, we have to have amenities,” she said.

Other communities with Levitt pavilions say they have been transformative.

The Levitt Pavilion Arlington opened in the mid-sized Texas city in 2008 and quickly became an integral part of the community, said Jay Warren, spokesman for the city of Arlington.

“The Levitt is truly the heart of downtown Arlington,” he said. “It provides the perfect location for the community to gather for concerts, events and parades.”

The pavilion’s culturally diverse programs of free music makes the venue a highly-used community gathering place, drawing more than 125,000 visitors annually, said Patti Diou, executive director of the Friends of the Levitt Pavilion - Arlington.

The Levitt was built specifically to revitalize the city’s downtown and has acted as an economic driver that contributed to a wave of redevelopment, including the opening of new restaurants, apartments and a new library, she said.

“I’m sure it will do the same for your community,” she said.

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