A new Harrison Twp. town square anchored by a relocated government center is the centerpiece of an ambitious — but yet unfunded — redevelopment plan for Forest Park unveiled by officials Monday night.
About 100 people attended a meeting at Sinclair Park, where Joe Nickol, the project’s lead planner, presented a consensus draft plan based on months of research and community meetings for 54 acres once home to an amusement park and later a shopping center that fell into decay.
“What really quickly bubbled up to the top was the idea of exploring further the idea of relocating the township hall to this site. It’s at the center of the township,” Nickol said.
The main township offices are at 5945 N. Dixie Drive, while safety administration functions are in two other buildings. According to 2017 U.S. Census estimates, about 22,300 people live in the township consisting of about 6.3 square miles just north of Dayton.
Roland Winburn, township trustee president and co-chair of the Forest Park plan, said a task force would be assembled to examine the cost of implementing the plan and how to fund it.
“There’s nothing in concrete… We haven’t promised anything,” Winburn said. “We have to be very aware how taxpayer dollars are being used, and we’re the stewards of that.”
Charlene Brumbaugh, a resident who lives on nearby Springcreek Drive, said it makes sense to have the township offices closer to where most people live.
“I think it’s a good idea,” she said. “Because over there on North Dixie Drive, a lot of people can’t get to it. Senior citizens have to drive over there on North Dixie Drive. It’s a busy drive.”
Several redevelopment concepts were envisioned by planners for an area encompassing 200 acres south of Shoup Mill Road between North Main Street and Riverside Drive.
Other alternatives included an advanced manufacturing and research center, an adventure recreation site like one in New Jersey where children and adults can operate heavy machinery such as backhoes and another proposal centered on agricultural research and small-batch processing.
But the concept most popular with residents who graded the alternatives at an April meeting focused on creating a new town square and relocating the Harrison Twp. Government Center to the site.
A township hall is “not the only narrative,” Nickol said. “In the grand scheme of things it’s a small piece of the site.”
The new plan also includes a community center providing another anchor and extends the footprint of the region’s park system, adding connectivity to the Stillwater River and bringing access to the recreation trails right to the back door of the government center.
Buildings sharing retail, office and residential space are also envisioned for the site, Nickol said.
“For the first time in Forest Park history, a lot of people would live on site,” he said. “We are proposing a mix of uses ranging from small apartments and cottages all the way up to senior housing on site.”
During the early 20th century, Frankie’s Forest Park was an amusement park that at times contained a zoo, dance hall, racetrack and roller coaster. The amusement park closed in 1958. Later, Forest Park Plaza, Dayton’s earliest open-air retail center, opened on the site anchored by a JCPenney. In 2013, the shopping mall was razed and a couple years later, a shuttered Ford dealership followed.
While there might be a town center and 400 residential units on paper, the build-out could take a decade, so officials also announced some activation activities at the site that aren’t expensive or complicated and can happen soon.
Planners are proposing to close parts of Riverside Drive occasionally to automobile traffic for people to walk, run or bike to downtown, allowing people to mentally remap the area and its proximity to downtown. The township is also preparing for an annual event where families can build and decorate miniature hot air balloons to release into the night sky at the site. An old post office on the edge of the site might also get a facelift and turned quickly into a community event space, Nickol said.
MKSK Studios, consultants out of Covington, Ky., developed the plan for County Corp, working in partnership with Harrison Twp. and Montgomery County.
Joseph Shafran, chairman and CEO of Paran Management Company, the Cleveland-based owner of the land, said the size of the site will require many different partners and a multitude of financial tools to reach the overall vision.
“It’s going to be a very complex mosaic,” he said. “I don’t think there’s an easy piece in this.”
Shafran’s company purchased the property in the early 1980s from the trust of a firm that declared bankruptcy, he said.
“It’s remained a viable old neighborhood as people like living in it, so we’ve just held onto it through all kinds of experiences,” he said.