Dayton Arcade plan draws arts community support

A proposal to redevelop the Dayton Arcade starting with housing and common spaces for creative endeavors has garnered strong support from local artists, business groups and community leaders.

On Thursday, a local company and out-of-state firm announced plans to create about 60 affordable housing units for artists and creative professionals as well as shared areas for programming, such as studios and galleries.

The roughly $12 million to $15 million first phase of the project would involve restoring two of the Arcade’s seven buildings, which are located along West Fourth Street.

The Dayton Arcade has historic and emotional significance, unique and compelling architecture and design and is located in the heart of downtown, which are all attributes that appeal to members of the creative class, said Lauren White, creative director and owner of Indigo Life Media, a partner with Nucleus CoShare in the Oregon Historic District.

People involved in the art community want spaces that are inspiring and distinct, and the development proposal is highly intriguing since it would offer opportunities for cross-sector collaboration, which can generate new ideas and artistic work, White said.

“I’m sure that whenever this project comes around, we’ll find a way to be a part of it because it seems like an amazing asset,” she said.

The city of Dayton on Thursday announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding to redevelop the long-vacant Arcade with Cross Street Partners, a diversified real estate firm in Baltimore, Md., and Miller-Valentine Group in Dayton.

The development partnership proposes rehabilitating the complex in phases. The first stage would be low-income housing for artists and others involved in creative pursuits.

Last week, city staff led small groups of prominent members of the arts and creative community on guided tours through the Arcade.

After the walk-throughs, invitees provided feedback on the potential for the buildings and what artists and creative professionals want and need from shared spaces.

The proposed project would add to the vibrancy of downtown, which is already on the upswing, while offering unique ways for artists and creative individuals to connect, said Jonathan McNeal, manager of the Neon movie theater and a local filmmaker.

“A lot of art is collaborative,” he said. “Artists work together regularly, but working and living together is not as common,”

McNeal said touring the Arcade was eye-opening and he’s convinced the complex has enormous redevelopment potential.

He said the bones of the buildings are in great shape.

White, who also toured the building, said the Arcade is the perfect home for a creative center.

She said many people have a deep emotional connection to the Arcade. People would want to live and work there, she said, because it is awe-inspiring, with grand and majestic architecture and a storied past.

“I think there’s this underdog syndrome, where people want to be part of the re-birthing or re-creation of something,” she said.

White said Nucleus would hopefully expand to the Arcade or be involved in some other way.

Nucleus is a nonprofit that provides a work space for freelancers, micro-businesses, entrepreneurs and others. Indigo Life Media is a digital media and marketing agency.

White said she’s eager to see what kinds of innovative ideas come out having creative Dayton residents live and work together.

Artist communities tend to serve a diverse range of creative specialists, such graphic artists, writers, photographers, makers, painters, actors, singers, dancers and digital artists.

Local community leaders said they believe there is unmet demand for housing for creative types, and the project could jump-start investment in the surrounding area, which has some unused and underutilized commercial buildings.

The Arcade is a special and meaningful icon, but today, in its current condition, the property is a barrier to revitalization efforts, said Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership.

“Our ability to take that vacant, dead space and turn it into active space would have a huge impact, not just on that quadrant of downtown, but the whole thing,” she said.

The development team has been deliberate and realistic in its plan to revive the Arcade, realizing a staged approach is the best way to tackle a massive and challenging undertaking, she said.

An enclave of creative professionals and artists would make downtown more dynamic, and the creation of artist housing would build momentum for the future phases of redevelopment, developers said. Future plans could include a boutique hotel, more housing and spaces for retail, restaurants and public uses, developers said.

The newly unveiled vision for the Arcade is the most promising development in years for efforts to preserve the property, which if revitalized can be the centerpiece of downtown, said Jo Granzow, who served as treasurer of the nonprofit Friends of the Dayton Arcade, a citizens group that worked to promote the property in the late 2000s.

“I have looked at the art centers in other cities, and they’ve been successful,” she said. “In today’s world, with the new urbanization where people want to live and work today, I think it’s got promise.”

Andy Snow, a working professional photographer who has lived downtown since 1989, said the price tag to redevelop the complex is undoubtedly steep — possibly $60 million or more, according to some estimates.

But Snow said the community helped raise tens of millions of dollars for the $121 million Schuster Center and Performance Place project. If redeveloped, the Arcade will be the epicenter of cultural energy downtown, he said.

He said low-income housing creates diversity within the city, and diversity enhances creativity, collaboration and culture.

“I think they have the right developer and I think they have the right idea,” Snow said. “We don’t build buildings like this anymore, so let’s save this one because we can make it great again.”

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