DAYTON — The city is using a $2 million state grant to extend Patterson Boulevard Canal Parkway four blocks as part of the long-range plans to connect downtown to nearby entertainment, education, health and research areas.
“The project is a strong addition to our downtown infrastructure. It’s very, very important,” said Sandy Gudorf, director of the Downtown Dayton Partnership. “It falls right in line with so much work the community has underway.”
The extension from Second Street to south of Fifth Street would link Riverscape and Fifth Third Field to the Oregon District.
City officials say the project is another step in Dayton’s quest to link downtown with the University of Dayton and its research components, and Miami Valley Hospital with downtown.
“This is the walking link we always wanted,” said Mike Martin, president of the Oregon District Business Association.
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In 2008, the state awarded the city a $2 million grant for construction of a cultural project. Initially, the money was to go toward a mixed-use project north of Fifth Third Field. When that project failed to reach fruition, the state asked the city if it had another close by qualifying project.
“Patterson Boulevard was part of our future plans, so we were able to put the money toward that,” said Steve Finke, assistant director of Public Works. The city is covering the engineering and planning costs.
The city commission approved use of the money for the project on Wednesday.
The project includes widening sidewalks, planting trees, flowers and shubbery, adding a bike lane and installing 12-foot-high pylons with decorative lighting along the four-lane boulevard.
“It will be a history walk with 10 pylon markers that show the history of the canal and the city,” said Finke.
“It ties Riverscape to Fifth Third to Cooper Park to the Oregon District,” Finke said. “It provides a better experience to draw people from the ballpark to the Oregon District.”
And northbound drivers leaving downtown will no longer be stuck in a left-turn only lane at Second Street, forcing a difficult lane change to the right to get across the Patterson bridge, Finke said.
“A lot of my friends yell at me about that,” Mayor Gary Leitzell said as Finke explained the plan to commissioners.
Commissioners were quick to point out that because of grant restrictions, the money could not be used to repave residential streets, another commission priority. The city budget has $3.3 million for road repaving projects.
Boulevard construction is to begin in the next two weeks, with completion scheduled for November, Finke said.
“There was no parking lot included when the stadium was built,” Martin said. “The idea was people would park downtown and walk to the stadium, to the district, for entertainment before and after the game.”
The Dayton Dragons, a Class A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, started its season Thursday with its 845th consecutive sellout, a professional sports record.
“It will be tremendously beautiful, a great walk along a safely lighted path,” Martin said.
And it will restore the former beauty of the boulevard.
The first leg of the canal was started in 1825 from Cincinnati to Dayton.
“Until the early 1850s, Dayton was a major international port for goods coming into Ohio,” said John Gower, a retired city worker, downtown historian and part-time city urban coordinator. “That spurred explosive growth. Without the canal, Dayton today would probably be the size of Germantown (population 5,547).”
Following the Civil War, the canal started to decline as railroads expanded their reach across the country. “The Flood of 1913 was the death blow to the canal,” Gower said.
By 1920, the city had a plan for the Miami-Erie Boulevard to follow the path of the canal from the river to Carillon Park. When the canal was filled and the boulevard completed in 1938, shortly after the death of John Patterson, who had urged city officials to fill it in, city officials named it after Patterson.
Gower said after World War II, parts of the boulevard’s park space were paved over for parking lots and commercial development. It wasn’t until the late ‘70s, or the early ‘80s that the city began to look at returning the boulevard to a modern version of its original grace.
“This is a big step,” he said of the current extension.
Gower said the city sees Patterson Boulevard and Brown Street as spines that connect downtown with the city’s growing innovation centers.
The city’s plans envision Brown Street as a corridor to the University of Dayton and Miami Valley Hospital. The city is in the midst of a $4.4 million rebuild of Brown Street through the campus. Future plans call for extending the Brown Street rebuild to Patterson Boulevard.
Updates of the boulevard further south would include sprucing up the artery all the way to the University of Dayton Research Institute at the former NCR world headquarters.
When completed, it would link the education, research and medical hubs for walkers, bikers and drivers to the growing residential areas on the east side of downtown and the numerous technology start-ups at Tech Town, just east of Fifth Third Field.
Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2290 or dpage@DaytonDailyNews.com.