The property that has housed the Montgomery County Fair for more than 160 years will be sold to the University of Dayton and Premier Health in a deal that is expected to reshape that southern section of Dayton.
The university and health care system on Monday announced they have reached a $15 million agreement to purchase the 37-acre South Main Street site, which comes less than two weeks after a pair of proposals to remake the property were rejected for not meeting certain criteria and asking for too many public dollars.
UD and Miami Valley Hospital officials said the purchase is an investment in the future that ensures that new development on the land is compatible and complementary with investments they have and will continue to make in that area.
The University of Dayton and Premier Health will redevelop the fairgrounds by starting with “a blank piece of paper,” said UD President Eric Spina.
“Hopefully, we’ll leverage the assets and create opportunities for our faculty and for our students,” Spina said. “I mean, that’s really the key. This is a long play.”
Dayton and Montgomery County leaders emphasized the historic relevance of the announcement and how much work it to took to reach this point. They said they are confident the property will become a high quality mixed-use development.
“(This) opportunity now gives us the time to do the really good work to make sure this is a development that lasts the ages,” said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley. “Congratulations to everyone who has been working on this the past 100 years.”
On Nov. 30, the city of Dayton, Montgomery County and fair board officials announced they rejected two proposals to redevelop the fairgrounds from Dayton-based Miller-Valentine Group and Indiana firm Thompson Thrift.
The proposals failed to meet certain criteria and originally sought more than $20 million in public infrastructure assistance, officials said. The minimum bid price for the fairgrounds was $15 million to help move the annual fair.
Within 48 hours of the announcement, city and county leaders met with representatives of Premier Health and UD to discuss the future of the property. On Monday, the groups held a joint press conference to announce the purchase plans, which are expected to be finalized in coming weeks, with financing coming from multiple sources, officials said.
The county fair and a horse show will take place as scheduled next year. The property is expected to fully change hands in the fall. The purchase agreement is expected to be completed in about a month.
Both Spina and Miami Valley Hospital president Mark Shaker said they have not decided what they will use the space for as the deal came together quickly.
“When the thing fell apart, well we had to step in,” Shaker said. “It was the right thing to do.”
With UD and student residences being just a few blocks away, Spina said it would make sense to extend some of campus to the fairgrounds location. He said the land will have more significant long-term implications for the university than short-term ones.
Shaker said Miami Valley Hospital, which is part of Premier Health, is landlocked and would benefit from having some room to grow.
On Monday, Spina emailed staff and students to tell them the fairgrounds purchase is a “strategic decision consistent with our history and character, and supports the future of the university.”
Spina noted the fairgrounds’ proximity “to GE, Emerson, the Marriott and other university holdings” at Patterson and Stewart, two blocks from UD’s student-centered investments on Brown Street.
Spina admitted the land will likely see some expansion of UD’s campus or Premier Health’s Miami Valley Hospital.
“Ultimately, I think this area will have some university opportunities and it will have some hospital opportunities,” Spina said. “Probably the vast majority of it will go to development of one kind or another.”
UD said its involvement began in October when Miller-Valentine asked for support of its redevelopment proposal. When the city, county and fair board rejected that plan, UD and Premier took an active role in acquisition talks.
“It was highly likely that if action was not taken quickly, this opportunity would have been lost and the fairgrounds would have continued to deteriorate, or it could be developed to the detriment of the university and the investments in that area,” Spina said in the email.
Premier Health President Mary Boosalis sent a letter in support of Miller-Valentine’s overall site design and planned uses for redeveloping the fairgrounds.
But UD and Premier said they will take their time to figure out the best uses for the property and will create a plan from scratch.
The development will have to go through the city’s planning and zoning process, and it should achieve the community’s desired vision for the property as a high quality, mixed-use urban environment, said Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein.
UD and Premier will be committed partners whose role in redeveloping the fairgrounds will be much deeper and more significant than if an outside developer was brought in to transform the site, said Whaley, who noted that the property is an important piece of real estate.
“It would not be fine with the city of Dayton if the people waited for 100 years for a strip mall to go on this property — that’s not OK with us,” she said.
Whaley said she and county leaders have discussed relocating the fair and selling the fairgrounds for at least three years, but interest in that happening dates back at least to John Patterson, who publicly declared his support of the move around the turn of the previous century.
Montgomery County Commissioner Dan Foley said the announcement was the result of behind-the-scenes work, and there were times that the obstacles in the way of moving the fairgrounds seemed insurmountable.
“I thought maybe it was an idea whose time was not ready — but I am glad it is,” he said.
Miller-Valentine and Thompson Thrift declined to comment for this article.
Montgomery County Fairgrounds by the numbers
1856: First fair held at fairgrounds
$15 million: Purchase price for property
37 acres: Size of property
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