‘This really plants a flag’: Officials hope new downtown pavilion is centerpiece of needed neighborhood rebound

South Main Street near the Dayton Convention Center, a typically quiet and drab part of downtown, is just days away from welcoming crowds and lively acts with the opening of the Levitt Pavilion Dayton.

The new state-of-the-art music venue built for around $5 million, which has its inaugural concert Thursday, is expected to draw thousands of visitors to its shows each week and is viewed as one of the area’s best chances for kick-starting a much-needed revival.

The pavilion is a central part of a strategy to revitalize a big piece of downtown into a thriving urban neighborhood. The strategy, called “The Nine,” focuses on a nine-block area around Dave Hall Plaza that contains roughly 1 million square feet of obsolete office space, said John Gower, CityWide Development’s director of urban design.

Without action, multiple large office buildings were going to be abandoned and would continue to deteriorate to the point where demolition would really be the only option, leading to a “butcher’s bill” of roughly $25 million or more, Gower said.

Though Levitt concerts will be free, the pavilion has some local development leaders and property owners seeing dollar signs, as they believe it can become downtown’s “living room,” bringing volumes of foot traffic not seen in decades.

“From an economic development standpoint, what I think will follow is natural: We’ll see more retail spaces, restaurants and maybe more music venues to support the fact that people are looking for great entertainment options,” said Lisa Wagner, executive director of the Levitt Pavilion Dayton.

The Levitt Pavilion Dayton is opening in Dave Hall Plaza, a long-overlooked and underutilized park adjacent to the Crowne Plaza Dayton. The park is in the southern part of Dayton’s Central Business District.

That area, particularly the southwestern quadrant of the district, contains a collection of old and empty commercial buildings.

The southwest quadrant is home to the Dayton Arcade — which has nine empty buildings — the 11-story Fidelity building (vacant) and the 23-story Grant Deneau Tower (vacant).

The former Dayton Daily News building was demolished, except for a historic piece, to make way for an apartment complex that has not happened.

There’s a vacant hotel building at Ludlow and Third streets. There are also empty storefronts in the area.

When it opened in 1974, Dave Hall Plaza featured cutting-edge landscape design and was a celebrated project, part of a redevelopment wave that included the opening of the convention center, transportation garage and hotel that would become the Crowne Plaza.

The park, however, has been virtually untouched since the 1970s and is seldom used, except for the occasional festival.

In December 2015, local officials revealed they were launching a campaign to raise $5 million to build a new music pavilion at the plaza to be part of a national network of “signature” free concerts sites.

The project came together quickly. The Dayton community reached its fundraising goal in less than two years, faster than any other city that is home to a Levitt signature pavilion.

The first concert on Thursday, like all 34 shows the pavilion will host this year, is free. Moving forward, the venue, which is the eighth signature Levitt pavilion, will host at least 50 free concerts per year that are each expected to draw around 1,000 people or more.

But the Levitt’s success won’t only be measured by the number of concert-goers. People will be closely watching the impact it has on economic development.

The city and its partners came up with “The Nine” strategy to try to re-position obsolete buildings for new uses as housing and urban lifestyle amenities, he said.

And the Levitt Pavilion is a centerpiece of that strategy, offering programming and activities that create energy and vibrancy, Gower said.

Young people and professionals want to live, work and play in unique and authentic urban environments, and the Levitt Pavilion is going to be a community anchor and a catalyst for new development, he said.

An underutilized public space is becoming a recreation destination that also extends the popular East Fifth Street corridor — containing the Oregon business district — into the core of the city, Gower said.

“This really plants a flag in the ground of where we want to go in the future,” he said.

And the pavilion opens at a time when the long-vacant Dayton Arcade is closer to much-anticipated revival.

A developer plans to spend more than $95 million restoring and reusing the arcade, which is a block from the pavilion. Officials recently submitted applications for building permits for the office components of the arcade.

High-quality local, national and international acts will perform in the state-of-the-art amphitheater at the pavilion, which means that visitors at no charge will receive about $11 million worth of free programming each year, spread across 50 shows, said Wagner of the Levitt Pavilion Dayton.

Some people can’t seem to believe the concerts are free, judging by the calls and emails to the Levitt Pavilion Dayton office every day from people wanting to know how they can buy tickets.

The beauty of music is that it connects people, and Levitt offers universal access to high-caliber musical entertainment in a family-friendly environment, Wagner said.

Levitt has a proven model of re-energizing distressed urban areas that build a pavilion, and the new facility will help connect important parts of what is already a very walkable city core, Wagner said.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun seeing what happens around the Levitt in the next year,” she said.

Some local businesses are thrilled that the pavilion is opening. Third Perk Coffeehouse & Wine Bar at 46 W. Fifth St. plans to operate a kiosk on the sidewalk in front of the business on Levitt show days, selling picnic-type snack packs with candies or food items and wine in plastic containers, said Juanita Darden, the business owner.

Levitt plans to sell alcohol, but people are allowed to bring their own drinks, though glass containers are prohibited.

Third Perk also hopes to be a destination for people after the concerts, where they can buy coffee products, mixed drinks, glasses of wine or food, Darden said. Live bands are expected to perform some nights.

Third Perk opened in June 2015, before plans for the pavilion were announced.

Darden said she was partly banking on new housing opening on the old Dayton Daily News site, which was to be marketed to Sinclair students. She said she was disappointed that the housing project has not come to fruition, but that Third Perk has a loyal customer base, and the Levitt hopefully could increase evening customer traffic on concert days by around 35 percent.

A significant number of projects that are announced never make headway, Darden said, but the Levitt project actually succeeded, and opening of the pavilion instills confidence that this section of downtown is on the rise.

In addition to Third Perk, the block is home to a bookseller, the Spaghetti Warehouse and the Dayton Chess Club. But it also contains vacant storefronts that once housed a security services business, a theatrical costumes store, a nonprofit group and a barber college.

An outside developer has expressed interest in acquiring some property on West Fifth Street.

“I believe we are really going to capitalize off the fact that (the Levitt is) here,” she said.

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