Dayton Convention Center adapting $31M renovation due to inflation

The group that owns the Dayton Convention Center is changing its $31 million renovation plans owing to cost increases at a time of decades-high inflation.

Costs are running 20% to 30% higher than expected, so the previously planned improvements would be more than $7 million over budget, according to convention facility officials and architects.

The convention center will prioritize and refine its master plan to deal with price volatility, officials said.

“The team will press on and make smart decisions while watching market conditions,” said Pam Plageman, executive director of the Montgomery County Convention Facilities Authority, which owns the property. “The project is vital to the downtown core and is well past due for these necessary upgrades to stay competitive.”

The Montgomery County Convention Facilities Authority started working on the facility at 22 E. Fifth St. as soon as it took ownership from the city of Dayton in April 2021.

The planned $31 million investment will give the aging property a brand new look and feel.

So far, the facilities authority has invested about $2.5 million into improvements that including safety upgrades and addressing deferred maintenance, Plageman said.

A bleacher system that had failed inspections was replaced with a new telescoping seating system, which was finished in April 2022, Plageman said.

New furniture has been installed, the lobby carpet was replaced and a faulty boiler was refurbished. The roof has been repaired, eliminating leaks, and mechanical equipment has been installed in the kitchen.

But most of the work still lies ahead, such as major exterior improvements.

Cost increases and a volatile marketplace could impact some key elements of the convention center renovation project, like mechanical equipment, escalators and lighting, said John Fabelo, a partner and director of design with LWC Architects in Dayton.

“This is a very unique construction market,” Fabelo said. “I have never seen a time quite like this for the construction and design industry in my 30-plus-year career at LWC.”

Prices for construction materials like steel and PVC for piping have increased about 45% and 50% in the last year, said Matt Schnelle, vice president of Messer Construction Co., which is the construction partner on the convention center project.

Aluminum prices have jumped 46% and glass increased 40%, and Schnelle said inflation on this scale has not been seen since the 1970s.

“All of these fluctuations are being caused by a combination of supply shortages, increased gas prices and high demand across the board,” he said.

Schnelle said Messer is working with its customers to come up with options for staying within their budgets, such as selecting different materials and finishes or delaying less important or urgent facility improvements.

“The goal is to keep the most impactful scopes of work intact,” he said.

The convention center’s most pressing issues identified in the master plan are being addressed and the team is prepared to pivot during construction phases so that work stays on schedule, Fabelo said.

Fabelo also said the facilities authority will work on a long-term strategic plan in light of the state of the market.

Plageman said the original renovation plans at current prices would be about $7 million over budget. But she said the team has made changes that have managed to shrink the projected cost overruns to about $1.8 million.

“We are being very thoughtful about priorities and staying as close to the master plan as possible,” she said. “Items such as new stage lighting in the theatre may be delayed, but it will happen down the road.”

Construction crews recently began removing and replacing the failing roof of the East Fifth Street skywalk, which connects the convention center to the Radisson Hotel across the street and a massive public parking garage.

Exterior work on the convention center will begin in mid-August with the removal of the memorable but not universally beloved metal sculpture at the entrance of the building.

Work also will commence at that time on creating a third-floor terrace, overlooking a revamped entrance, that has landscaping, pavers and some park-like elements, officials said.

The first phase of the convention center’s renovation is expected to be completed in mid-2024, and there are expected to be about three phases.

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