DAYTON – Restoration of Dayton’s downtown Arcade hinges on identifying an anchor tenant, a magnet to attract others to lease space in the historic structure, according to the owner of the complex.
“We are still committed. We would not spend money making endless trips to Dayton, if we weren’t,” said Gunther Berg, co-owner of the property. “We are not able to bring a big company from outside of Dayton to rent the place. We need someone from Dayton to move in.”
A light beaming from a second story window where scaffolding had been assembled had folks on Fourth Street speculating last week whether restoration of the downtown complex had begun. While planning progresses, Berg said he won’t move on the estimated $48 million project until an anchor is found.
“Sure I would wish that we were a couple steps ahead, but I’m happy we’re still alive and a work in progress,” he said. “I have dreamed about the grand opening. We have to shake up something.”
Optimism rose for the long-dead Arcade in 2009, when two men from Wisconsin made an overnight dash to Dayton to buy the complex at a Montgomery County sheriff’s tax lien sale for the minimum bid of $615,106. Berg and Wendell Strutz, partners in Dayton Arcade LLC, had hoped to begin restoration in six months. Nearly three years later, delinquent property taxes top $206,700. The exterior of the buildings continues to deteriorate, with sidewalks around the Commercial Building at Fourth and Ludlow streets cordoned off due to broken upper floor windows.
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Shelley Dickstein, Dayton’s assistant city manager for strategic development, said her office has worked closely with Berg to help him sell downtown and himself to potential investors.
She said a core group of investors and others have met with city officials to learn about the Greater Downtown Plan and other developments under way in the Central Business District. The city also has suggested potential anchor tenants to Berg, which Dickstein would not name.
The ongoing roller coaster ride that has raised hopes and dashed dreams of redevelopment has been ongoing since the Arcade was padlocked in 1991.
In 2005, then owner Brownfield Charities sought donations to hire an architect to see if the complex could be converted into a franchise of the Tulsa, Okla.-based America’s Incredible Pizza Co. The following year, a special effects designer proposed transforming the Arcade into an entertainment and attraction center. Then in 2007, plans called for converting the collection of buildings, and others in the neighborhood, into residences, a boutique hotel, offices and parking.
Berg never identified specific uses. His main goal has always been saving the structure.
“(Berg’s) approach is unconventional. He really fell in love with the building and preservation is very important to him,” Dickstein said. “We’ve tried conventional for years. Maybe we need unconventional.”
The city has not lost faith in Berg’s ability to get the project moving, Dickstein said. But, mounting property taxes and his failure to fix broken windows “seems indicative of the fact that he doesn’t have financing in place to stabilize the building,” she said.
“Fixing the windows isn’t just about shoring up the building. It’s about instilling confidence in the community and in potential investors,” Dickstein said.
Berg said he has assembled a restoration team, based in Baltimore, including a structural engineer, architect and developer. The good news, he said, is that they’ve found the complex, including the glass-domed rotunda, structurally sound. He said he doesn’t want to spend money boarding up broken windows, when they could be replaced in several months. There have been workers in the building dealing with the window problem to ensure safety, he said.
“The entire complex is in pretty good shape,” Berg said. “I am very positive, but I am not blind.”
Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership, said she too has meet with interested parties Berg has brought to Dayton in to examine the Arcade and talk about potential uses.
“Gunther is still working this very hard and there is continued interest,” Gudorf said. “It is unclear at this time, whether that interest will translate into a check.”
It is no secret that the Dayton economy is struggling, Berg said. That fact has slowed progress, but there are people who believe in the city’s future and who love the Arcade, Berg said.
“I’d like to build an alliance, a team of people to promote the project. We need wider shoulders,” Berg said. “If we don’t focus our power, it will die. We have to stand up and stay together. It will be a major thing for Dayton for that entire block to be redeveloped.”