Carnival rides and cotton candy begin spinning today as the 2015 Montgomery County Fair returns to the site where it all began in 1856. But this could be the last year that the fair is held at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds.
The proposed Midtown District project would transform the historic, 38-acre site just south of downtown Dayton into a mix of residential, commercial and office properties similar to The Greene Town Center in Beavercreek. The fairgrounds would move from Main Street to a nearly 70-acre site on West Campus Boulevard in Brookville. Only the historic Roundhouse building would be saved and moved to the new location — other buildings on the fairgrounds would likely be demolished.
While the Montgomery County Fairgrounds has been an endearing part of Dayton’s history for many generations, the idea of commercial redevelopment is not a new one, as illustrated in this excerpt from former Dayton Daily News reporter Benjamin Kline on March 15, 1999:
A race horse named Goldsmith Maid in 1874, the aviators Wilbur and Orville Wright in 1909, and President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968 attracted the biggest crowds ever.
But the Montgomery County Fairgrounds, less than a mile from downtown at 1043 S. Main St., stands out in the community’s memory more for the individual moments, the personal history that mattered very much for a short time, then vanished into scrapbooks, wall plaques and feelings as sweet and sticky as pink cotton candy on a late summer’s day.
The fairgrounds is where your high school basketball team won a big game in the Coliseum, where your steer or pig won a blue ribbon, where you first held hands with the girl you later married, even as both of you got sick and threw up on the Tilt-a-Whirl ride. It may also be where you bought your first new furniture from the charming A.B. Hallum, whose spartan store used to occupy the Roundhouse during nonfair months, or your Christmas tree from Joe’s Pines, a seasonal tenant.
In its 142 years, the 37.8-acre property has been more than just the annual fair first held there in 1856. It also has been a perennial lure to politicians and speculators who would rather `develop’ land than use it to show livestock or stage tractor pulls. As the county’s agricultural base shrinks, the fairgrounds faces changing demographics and increased competition for the money people spend on entertainment.
Once again, county commissioners are considering the possibility of selling the fairgrounds and moving the fair to a more rural site in the western part of the county — where people still know how milk comes from a cow.
The proposed Midtown District would be a $125 million two-phase redevelopment. The overall layout would include 20 acres for commercial space for a grocery store, hotel, office, restaurants and entertainment venues and 17 acres for market-rate apartments and condominiums.
Though these new plans are contingent on securing financing for the project, the developer, Miller-Valentine Group, and the Montgomery County Agricultural Society are running a joint campaign to raise the remaining $3 million that is short of the $18.5 million needed to make the move.
Brookville city officials are also optimistic the fairgrounds move will happen. Last month Rod Stephan, law director for Brookville, told the Dayton Daily News, “It’s looking more promising that more likely the project is going to happen here in Brookville, but it’s not 100 percent certain at this moment.
“Right now, we’re still waiting for (the agricultural society) to make a final submission to us for the planned development process,” he said. “They have a deadline of April 1, 2016, to have the project under construction.”