Memorial Hall: Developer set to bring new life to downtown landmark

Downtown’s Memorial Hall could be better positioned for a comeback after Montgomery County enters into an agreement Tuesday with a developer to bring life to the complex.

PHOTO GALLERY:  Interior views of Memorial Hall

Montgomery County, which owns Memorial Hall, is expected to give Woodard Development the exclusive right through the end of 2019 to pitch an adaptive reuse plan for the building, dedicated in 1910 to honor the county’s war dead and serve as a performance hall.

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“We’re exploring several different redevelopment options. It’s an iconic building and a structure that presents a lot of opportunities — and some challenges as well,” said Jason Woodard, the company’s principal. “We are in the very early stages of exploring what it could be.”

Woodard said the agreement, which grants the first right of refusal to potentially purchase the property, will assure that Memorial Hall won’t be sold to someone else until the company has the opportunity to pitch its plan and negotiate any acquisition with the county.

“That plan will take months to develop,” Woodard said. “We want to get some level of control so we can do the appropriate investigation and planning to deliver something that’s worthy of the structure that’s there.”

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The Dayton-Montgomery County Port Authority, also a partner in the potential redevelopment, has agreed to accept the transfer of the property from the county so long as a reuse plan – which includes historic preservation of the building – is acceptable to all the parties, according to the resolution to be voted on Tuesday.

After a 2010 agreement with the county, Dayton History became caretaker of Memorial Hall at 125 E. First St. The agreement has since been renewed through the end of 2019.

Brady Kress, president and CEO of Dayton History, said parts of the building are rented out about once a week. The auditorium that seated 2,500 routinely in its heyday might seat 1,500 people just once a year now for Dayton Fight Night, an event hearkening to when heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey held a 1925 exhibition bout in Memorial Hall, he said.

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But the building remains vastly underutilized because of another agreement the county made with the Victoria Theatre Association after the opening of the Schuster Center for the Performing Arts.

“People are always calling and asking if they can do something there,” Kress said. “We, as the operator, have not been permitted to use that building for any kind of ticketed musical or theatrical activities.”

Kress said he is pleased that the memorandum of understanding between the county, port authority and Woodard Development calls for strict preservation of the war memorial’s marbled atrium, murals, statues and facade.

Woodard said it was too early in the process to determine what might ultimately become of the brick structure at First and St. Clair streets, but the company would be guided by the Greater Downtown Dayton Plan and could contain office and commercial space as well has hospitality and retail.

“All of those are on the table, but it’s too early to comment any further,” he said.

Woodard has been on a six-year run developing Dayton properties, often partnering with Crawford Hoying Development of Columbus. Some of the projects include the Water Street Development, which includes a PNC Bank building, 269 apartments and a Fairfield Inn and Suites. Woodard helped add more housing downtown with the Delco Lofts and Centerfield Flats, 112-unit apartment building is currently under construction just beyond the outfield walls at Fifth Third Field.

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