Dayton Arcade gutted in $90M plan to create ‘city within a city’

The Dayton Arcade is starting to look like its original 1904 self again after months of demolition work have stripped most of its commercial additions down to bare bones.

Alterations dating back to the 1960s and 1980, which gave the arcade a retro-shopping center kind of feel, have been removed, including the escalator, elevator and storefronts.

Parts of the arcade already are showing signs of their original beauty, and developers promise the transformation will be increasingly hard to miss.

The arcade’s future is rooted in its past, because the historic complex is on track to become what it once was and always has aspired to be — “a city within a city” incorporating housing, work and leisure under one roof, said John Gower, place-making engineer with the city of Dayton and CityWide.

“This mix of uses is fulfilling the original promise of the arcade, which is basically 24-hour activity,” he said.

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After nearly three decades of collecting cobwebs, the arcade’s southern buildings are being restored to their early-20th Century glory and modernized.

A development team closed on financing for a $90 million rehab of the complex just a few months ago. And already, the arcade looks and feels different.

The inside of the rotunda is much brighter because the glass in the iconic dome has been fully replaced. But also, the interior of the arcade has been gutted, meaning light from the storefronts on Main and Fourth streets also can be seen from deep inside the complex.

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Systems installed in the arcade since 1904 have been torn out, including heating, cooling, electrical and plumbing, Gower said.

Walls, bulkheads and storefronts have been knocked down, and stairs and tile have been removed. Dropped ceilings put in to hide duct work have been torn out. So has carpeting and raised floors, exposing concrete beneath.

“It’s intriguing, it’s exciting and it’s actually a kind of architectural decoding of the building back to its original format,” Gower said.

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The developers are removing nearly all traces of later additions.

About 90 percent of the features from 1980 are gone and so are the bulk of the 1960s alterations, said Dave Williams, senior director of development with Cross Street Partners, the arcade's lead development partner.

Demolition is nearly complete on the commercial parts of the south arcade. Demolition will last several more months, concentrated in the upper floors of the buildings that are being turned into new housing, Williams, said.

Crews continue to work on the Ludlow Street side of the arcade complex and already have removed brick that was installed in the 1960s, revealing stone and metal underneath.

With the brick gone, passers-by can see an entry sign for the Commercial Building annex and another sign for a business called Russell’s.

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Next, crews will patch and fix the stone, and historic windows will be cleaned, stripped, re-glazed and re-installed, Williams said.

The complex has roughly 700 to 800 windows, and about 90 percent of the historic windows are being restored, developers say.

The exterior work probably will continue into the spring, but the hope is to get as much done as possible before it turns cold, Williams said.

Also, existing glass on the interior of the upper levels of the rotunda will be restored, while new glass will be installed in the upper level areas that lack it.

A section of ceiling by the rotunda will be cut out and replaced with skylights, Williams said.

First-floor glass doors added in the 1980s will be replaced with new storefronts that resemble a 1920s style, developers say.

Wood floors that are in OK shape will be sanded and coated with varnish. Floors that are rotting and can’t be salvaged will be peeled back. Meanwhile, asbestos and lead paint abatement work also is taking place in the residential towers of the Commercial and Lindsey buildings.

Crews also have found and set aside a variety of artifacts during the demo work.

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Discovered and salvaged items include old restaurant and retail signs, gears and pieces of the escalator, storefront glass, hardware, doors and trim. On a recent tour, a member of the development team discovered a McCrory’s shopping basket.

Some items will be incorporated into tenants’ spaces, serving as decorations for offices, restaurants and other businesses.

Next up, crews will begin to dig dirt in the basement to lower the floor four or five feet. This is to help create 14-foot ceilings to accommodate a new “shark tank” theater space.

Gower looks forward to when the arcade is restored and modernized, drawing people and businesses.

“I’m going to describe it as a 2019 urban city within a city,” Gower said. “This is learn, live, work, play and create.”

The arcade will offer housing and urban lifestyle uses, like restaurants, taverns, specialty retail and local small businesses, Gower said. But also, he said, it will have educational uses like the innovation hub that will generate activity beyond just regular business hours.

When the Dayton Arcade opened in 1904, it basically was a city within a city, featuring offices, housing and a market house, said Gower.

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Over time, the arcade underwent some updates to try to keep up with changing preferences and the general hollowing out of the urban core.

The biggest changes came in 1978, when the arcade closed to undergo about $15 million in renovations. The complex reopened in 1980 as an indoor shopping center and marketplace.

Modern amenities were added, like an elevator and escalator, and the complex was subdivided and rearranged to create a retail market, with some large and deep commercial spaces, Gower said.

The arcade basically was a festival marketplace, with food and specialty retail as the main draws, Gower said.

“The food did well until the very last day it was open,” Gower said. “The retail always struggled.”

But the 1980 renovation could not save the arcade. The complex closed for good in 1991 after a high vacancy rate and financial problems.

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