Promise keeping: New Fire Blocks developer starts work on $35M project

The new developer of the Fire Blocks in downtown Dayton today delivered on its promise to begin work on one of the district’s historic buildings.

Crews started removing and replacing the roof of the Elks building at the southeast corner of East Third and South Jefferson streets, which was a welcome sight for Dayton officials, development leaders and other observers who have waited years to see signs of progress to transform the area.

Columbus-based Windsor Companies vowed that a crane would be parked at the site on Tuesday and that demolition activities would begin today on a $35 million initial phase of the project.

Windsor, so far, is two-for-two on keeping its promises.

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Windsor is trying to build some goodwill and trust in the community about the project after a previous proposal to overhaul the district stalled.

Windsor Companies has been told at least 100 times that people will stop being skeptical of the Fire Blocks project once it gets underway with "hammers swinging," said Eric VanZwieten head of marketing and public relations with the Windsor Companies.

The work started today, and the developer said the ground floor of the Elks and another building, called the Huffman Block, will be white boxed in about nine months.

The plan is to put restaurants and other amenities in the storefront spaces of the two buildings and housing on the upper levels, which is expected to be ready in about a year.

The Fire Blocks District is centered around the 100 block of East Third St. in downtown Dayton.

A few years ago, the Ellway Group began acquiring multiple properties in the district and unveiled ambitious plans for what they said would be a $100 million mixed-use development.

The Ellway Group obtained about $4.5 in state historic tax credits to help fund the renovation of the Elks Building (100 E. Third St.) and the Huffman Block building (111-129 E. Third St.).

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But there were delays, missed deadlines and other problems with the project.

Windsor Companies has taken over the redevelopment of the Fire Blocks and will be able to hold onto the state historic tax credits, VanZwieten said.

The state of Ohio gave the Ellway Group until the end of June to prove it had the financing in place to move forward with rehabbing the Elks and Huffman Block buildings or forfeit its credits.

The Windsor Companies has about $100 million of assets under its management, and it owns more than 1,000 residential units and more than 500,000 square feet of commercial space in central Ohio, according to its website.

The company's work includes: the Vetro Lofts, which are luxury urban lofts in the Italian Village area in Columbus; the Berry Boltworks factory building, which houses offices for Uber and other tenants; the Dublin Community Recreation Center in Dublin; an equestrian center and the Hilliard Library.

The new developer knows the project has faced significant challenges and comes into this “with their eyes wide open,” said Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership.

“They’ve been working with the tenants in the buildings because they know it’s been a rocky road over the last year, 18 months,” she said. “They want to deliver a terrific project for this community.”

The Fire Blocks is in the heart of downtown, and redevelopment of that district would be big for facilitating other investment in that section of the city, she said.

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