Miller-Valentine Group’s site renderings depict how the firm intended to incorporate the historic structures of the fairgrounds into a new, mixed-used development. SUBMITTED

Rejected fairgrounds plans envisioned thriving centers

Developers proposed residential, retail and entertainment among other options.

Two redevelopment proposals for the Montgomery County Fairgrounds were rejected this week for not meeting certain criteria and requiring too much public money for infrastructure improvements.

But the proposals — from firms Miller-Valentine Group and Thompson Thrift — did outline unique visions for remaking the fairgrounds property into new, mixed-use environments.

Thompson Thrift, based in Indiana, originally planned a nearly $100 million center that would be a southern gateway to Dayton, drawing people in with entertainment, shopping, dining, recreation and living choices.

Miller-Valentine, a Dayton company, had plans that called for reusing the site’s agricultural buildings, creating new spaces that also inspire nostalgia.

The firm wanted to restore the roundhouse building to create a space for programming and special events; transform the treasure barn into residential amenities; bring a market and beer garden to the horse barns; make the milking parlor an ice cream shop and possibly bring back a year-round Ferris wheel.

Miller-Valentine Group has spent years working to acquire and reinvent the fairgrounds, and the firm remains very interested in playing a major role in guiding the future of the site, said Dave Dickerson, partner and Dayton market president with Miller-Valetine Group.

“We hope to participate in this going forward,” he said.

On Wednesday, the city of Dayton, Montgomery County and the Montgomery County Fair Board announced both proposals to redevelop the 37-acre fairgrounds site have been rejected.

A committee consisting of representatives from each organization reviewed the plans and determined they failed to meet key criteria and would be too burdensome on taxpayers. The plans were submitted in late September.

The firms asked for tens of millions of dollars in public infrastructure improvements, which the city is unwilling to pay for on its own, said Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein.

Thompson Thrift’s proposal called for spending about $99 million to create an active residential, commercial, retail, shopping and entertainment center, the proposal says.

Financing for the project called for the public sector to pick up about $25 million of the project cost, more than half of which would come from a tax-increment financing arrangement, according to the document.

Firm representatives on Thursday said that a revised plan had a smaller phased project with a “much smaller” public investment estimate of about $12.5 million, of which $2.5 million would be an already approved state grant.

Thompson Thrift planned to construct townhouses and multi-family structures. The firm indicated it would attract a hotel (120 rooms), movie theater (10 screens), and would develop 273,000 square feet of retail, restaurants and offices.

Plans included a fitness and entertainment center, boutique shops and a specialty grocery store.

Thompson Thrift said its project would create a strong sense of place that reflects the fairgrounds’ culture and historic heritage. The proposal called for re-purposing the roundhouse into a community space, with an adjacent green space.

Other attractions included sculptures, public art and plazas.

Miller-Valentine said it planned to use state and federal historic tax credits to rehabilitate the roundhouse for special programming and events, including weddings and business meetings.

A key element of the development plan was for an area called the Central Commons, which features open spaces and gathering spaces on the top of the hill.

To retain the historic character of the site, Miller-Valentine proposed reusing the stone gate entrance to be incorporated into a residential area and the horse barns could become a market, brewery and beer garden.

The firm was interested in turning the treasure barn into an exercise area, co-share space, bicycle club or restaurant or coffee shop. The firm said it wanted to create a fair museum.

Miller-Valentine said it had secured a letter of interest from a grocery store and planned to create more than 800 residential units (649 for rent, 154 for sale), 75,000 square feet of retail and restaurants, 250 hotel rooms and 260,000 square feet of offices.

The project would create 645 apartments, 132 condos and 38 townhouses. The project also would create a medical office building.

Miller-Valentine estimated the development could potentially create 1,600 new jobs when completed, leading to nearly $2 million in new annual income for the city of Dayton.

Jobs would be related to office use (1,300 positions), restaurant (261), hotel (187), grocery (124) and retail (64), the plans show.

A copy of Miller-Valentine’s proposal obtained by this newspaper does not include financial estimates for the project, or figures about the required level of public investment.

But city of Dayton officials said the infrastructure upgrades would cost tens of millions of dollars.

Miller-Valentine’s proposal says “… we realize that both the acquisition and public infrastructure (public streets, utilities, parking structures, etc.) costs will require public subsidy.”

To help raise the $15 million needed to move the county fair, Miller-Valentine said it would seek about $3.5 million in federal, state and local assistance, not counting an already secured state grant award. In 2014, an earlier and different version of Miller-Valentine’s fairgrounds plan estimated it would require about $20 million in public infrastructure improvements.

A project of this magnitude requires a lot of different financing — including local, state and federal funding — and the $15 million price tag to relocate the fair leaves less money to spend on other redevelopment costs, said Dickerson, the firm’s partner. He said the Greene Town Center and Austin Landing both benefited from taxpayer-funded investments.

Dickerson said he’s eager to see what the city, county and fair board do next, and Miller-Valentine believes strongly that the property has the potential to become a centerpiece of Dayton.

Eric Wojak, Midwest development director with Thompson Thrift, said projects of this scope typically require public investments, but what they were seeking was reasonable.

“Since this is a historically and geographically significant site in the town of Dayton, public support is a must,” he said.

He said Thompson Thrift remains interested in the site and hopes to get answers from the city or county about what was missing or lacking in his firm’s proposal.

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