20-year plan tries to make Dayton’s rivers more accessible, profitable

Plan could spur recreation, economic growth along riverfronts.

Seven local agencies are working together to make Dayton’s rivers more accessible and profitable.

Five Rivers MetroParks is working with the city of Dayton, the Miami Conservancy District and other local agencies to lead the way in developing a 20-year master plan for the city’s rivers. The plan, to be completed by next summer, will aim to bring recreation and business to area river fronts.

“Water, and the river, is Dayton and the region’s greatest natural resource,” Carrie Scarff, Five Rivers MetroParks chief of planning and projects, said. “There’s an incredible economic opportunity with Dayton’s riverfront, as we develop this natural resource and green space for the community.”

Other partners in the master plan include Montgomery County, Greater Dayton RTA, Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission, and Downtown Dayton Partnership.

The partners plan to target three-mile stretches on each of the city’s four rivers, with each stretch starting downtown: the Great Miami River going south to Carillon Historical Park; the Stillwater River going north to Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark; Wolf Creek going west to Wesleyan MetroPark; and Mad River going east to Eastwood MetroPark.

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At each of these stretches, Scarff says that changes will likely be made to make the riverfront more accessible. This might mean altering the levees, or adding steps or ramps to help connect the surrounding communities to the waterways, as was done at RiverScape.

“Right now, in many ways, the river is somewhat walled off to us,” Scarff, who has worked with Five Rivers for 20 years, said. “RiverScape is a great example of where we’ve tried to connect the river at the bottom of the levee to the downtown at the top of the levee, and we’d like to see a lot more of that along these corridors.”

“There’s the opportunity for people who are in the midst of a densely urban environment to walk two blocks and be in a very natural environment. It’s just so valuable for a city.”

With that connection comes business opportunities: the partners hope to add restaurants and retail businesses to the river fronts. According to Jason Kirkwood, a pioneer of the local riverfront restaurant scene, there is a demand for waterside business.

“People love it, they love the river,” Kirkwood said.

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He is the general manager of Basil’s On Market, a casual diner located on the Great Miami River near newly-developed Watertown, which has been in business since last July.

“They actually comment a lot, they wish there were more things around here. They wish there were other restaurants down on the river to go to, and more things to do down here,” Kirkwood said.

Each river stretch will be handled differently based on location. The Great Miami segment, which runs past educational institutions like the University of Dayton and Sinclair Community College, will be handled differently than the Wolf Creek stretch, which runs through a densely urban area of West Dayton alongside James H. McGee Blvd.

“All the corridors are different, and they serve different demographics and different adjacent land uses. Some travel through dense residential areas, some travel through light industrial areas,” Scarff said. “We’re not going to impose the same solution on all the corridors.”

Dayton’s partnership has hired Sasaki, a Boston-based design firm, to provide consultation for the project. Sasaki is internationally known as “one of the best planning and landscape architecture firms,” Scarff said, and has worked on projects like the development of Smale Riverfront Park in Cincinnati.

Sasaki representatives met this month in Dayton to discuss the master plan with local partners, and Sasaki project leader Mark Dawson said that he had high hopes for the city’s vision.

“This is where we love to work, in riverfront communities. This project is interesting because it touches a multitude of different neighborhoods,” Dawson, who commended Dayton’s recent growth behind RiverScape, said. “You can see the change already in Dayton over the last decade or so, in the work that’s been done to date. People are using the river.”

The city’s previous 20-year master plan, which was introduced in 1997 and centered around RiverScape, was completed in May with the addition of the RiverScape River Run.

Scarff lives across the river from RiverScape, and has seen the early success of the River Run first-hand.

“I live right across the river, and pretty much every night that the river’s not too high and the weather’s decent, I’ve seen paddlers in the River Run,” Scarff said. “There was one weekend where I walked back and forth by the River Run six times over the course of the weekend, and every time I did I saw a different set of paddlers in the river. It’s attracting people.”

Scarff and the partnership envision serious economic growth in Dayton as a result of the new riverfront movement. She alluded to the fact that many cities across the nation, from Oklahoma City to Columbus, have used the water to spur local business. Oklahoma City invested $54 million in a downtown canal project nearly 20 years ago that has led to over $700 million in profit, Scarff says.

Dayton’s riverfront partnership will hold bi-weekly meetings over the next year to work on the master plan. While Scarff could not estimate the cost of the multi-year effort, she noted that the partnership has already raised $415,000. Through social media and in-person community outreach, the partners will work with local citizens to understand what they would like to see on the riverfront.

“What we would like to do is create more access to the rivers and to look at the rivers as uniting resources, and not just dividing lines,” Jon White, city planner for the city of Dayton, said. “We want to make sure we’re utilizing these resources for our citizens.”

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