“I believe the business owners are excited to try this,” said Lisa Mendenhall, who co-owns Blind Bob’s with her husband, Bob. “We have never done something exactly like this but we have had the street closed for events in the past, usually just for the day.”
However, the plan has faced criticism from some people, including members of Greater Downtown Priority Land Use Board, which recently voted unanimously in opposition to closing East Fifth Street.
Steve Seboldt, a downtown representative on the board, said they think the board and residents in the neighborhood were not properly consulted before this decision and they worry shutting down the street could attract large crowds at a time when the coronavirus remains a health and safety threat.
“We felt like we should have bee
n consulted somewhere in the process,” he said.
At about 3 p.m. today, East Fifth Street will shut down roughly between Omega Music to the west and near Wayne Avenue to the east.
Under the Out on 5th pilot program, the roadway will be closed to vehicular traffic Friday afternoons until Monday mornings through the end of October. However, this weekend, because Labor Day is Monday, the road will not reopen until Tuesday morning.
The road closure will allow this brick section of Fifth Street to become a pedestrian promenade. Visitors will be able to walk freely through the heart of the business district without having to worry about automobile traffic.
Tables and chairs will be placed on the street to allow some businesses to expand their outdoor seating. Also, there will be communal tables that aren’t reserved and anyone can use.
Live acoustic music and some smaller-scale entertainment will be provided, and shops plan to have special street sales.
The program will make the district more of a destination and will allow people to socialize while still maintaining a safe distance, said Amy Haverstick, owner of Jay’s Seafood Restaurant.
“The businesses on Fifth are small,” she said. “This will allow them to expand their seating.”
Today’s closure also coincides with the official launch of Dayton’s first Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA).
Fifth Street in the Oregon District, and some nearby areas including parts of Wayne Avenue, will now allow people to drink alcohol on the streets and sidewalk.
The new outdoor drinking district will operate every day of the week from noon to 10 p.m. The only drinks permitted outside are sold in special containers at businesses participating in the DORA.
Fifth Street in the Oregon District occasionally has been closed down to automobile traffic for events like Hauntfest (around Halloween), Taste of the Oregon District and other festivals and activities, including Dave Chappelle’s Gem City Shine block party.
Decades ago, there were efforts to turn Fifth Street into a pedestrian mall, and a plan developed in the late 1970s to close to the street to automobile traffic and have visitors park in the nearby transportation garage, said Andrew Walsh, a research librarian at Sinclair Community College and author of “Lost Dayton, Ohio.”
But Walsh said the idea was controversial, and by 1982, that plan had been rejected.
Walsh, who runs the history website Dayton Vistas, says East Fifth Street historically has been called a “mini downtown” by many sources.
A variety of business in the district have long supported removing auto traffic from the commercial corridor.
“We are excited to see Fifth Street shut down on the weekends to vehicle traffic,” said Dane Thomas, operations manager of Ned Peppers and Hole in the Wall. “Ourselves and other bars have been in favor of doing this for years now.”
Robin Sassenberg, owner of the Trolley Stop, said she’s visited many places across the country that close down street traffic for pedestrians and she is very pleased Dayton is going to give it a try.
The atmosphere in these settings is more relaxed and people really enjoy the freedom of uncrowded spaces, she said, and it also makes it easier to shop and see what businesses have to offer.
“It’s (a lot) easier to keep several feet apart if some of the customers are outside our shops,” she said. “There’s (much) less chance of exposure, and it feels safer to dine outside if there are lots of people around.”
However, the Greater Downtown Priority Land Use Board voted in opposition to closing the street.
Mike Martin, the chair of the board, has been very critical of the outdoor drinking district and closure of Fifth Street.
Board members felt that they and impacted property owners were not told of the plans and were not given an appropriate opportunity to provide feedback, Seboldt said.
Seboldt said the board’s vote in opposition was mostly symbolic, but it reflects frustration with not being included in the process.
Out on 5th’s primary goal is to help downtown businesses that are facing tough times expand capacity and boost sales, said Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership.
“We’re taking all of the precautions and following all the guidelines so that are customers feel safe and secure when they come down and have an enjoyable experience while helping our downtown businesses,” she said.