- Libby Ballengee Contributing Writer
With all the talk of downtown development, you may have heard the name Winfield “Scott” Gibson.
I was intrigued about the location for this district, what the plans are and how out-of-state investors get clued into the great development opportunities that Dayton provides.
We talked with Scott to get some insight on these questions and more.
You are re-establishing the Fire Block District (FBD) in downtown Dayton. A lot of locals don't know where that district is located. Can you explain where it is and how it got the name?
On March 21, 1913, it began to rain in Southwestern Ohio and it didn’t stop until almost a foot of water fell upon the already overly saturated soil. The final water depth was 20 feet in some areas and as if that wasn’t enough, on March 26, gas lines began to break and fires broke out. Two blocks in downtown were especially devastated: 2nd to 4th Street and Jefferson to St. Clair Street. The FBD was born out of the ashes and debris left behind on these blocks.
The arduous journey to rebuild the district began immediately, coming to a conclusion in 1918. The FBD represented ground zero for the rebuilding process of downtown Dayton. One hundred years later, it once again represents the same rebuilding effort, spirit, optimism and energy that passionate Daytonians are known to exemplify.
Why do you think this area is key to downtown Dayton's redevelopment? What makes it stand out from other development projects?
Other than the Oregon District, it is the only place in downtown with a substantial amount of retail on the first floor and mixed use above. Century Bar, MJs on Jefferson, Masque, Stage Door, Don’s Pawn Shop, two optical stores and many other shops are already there and doing very well. We will be playing off of that positive energy.
Furthermore, it is a National Historic District, one that is perfectly positioned between the Oregon, Cannery, Theatre Districts and Fifth Third Field. One can easily walk, or better yet, use Dayton’s new Link Bike Share Program and be anywhere in downtown within just a handful of minutes. The FBD is the geographical center of the downtown Dayton universe.
Can you share some of the plans you have for this area? What can we look forward to?
We are developing a mixed-use project, one that is urban living focused. The layout is going to be extension of what already exists. Jefferson will be the bar and club corridor, thus allowing us to keep 3rd Street’s focus to be restaurants and retail. Most of the square footage that we have acquired is going to be repurposed as a mix of residential projects. We are creating creative and modern condo, apartment and work/living products, all whilst keeping affordability and ownership of both commercial and residential spaces a priority.
Most downtowners want 2 things: a grocery store and to save the Arcade. Your thoughts on the future of those?
Both are very tough projects. The Arcade is utterly intoxicating, and thus an incredibly dangerous endeavor. Unfortunately, I just don’t see how the current market could support the cost required to get the property back up and running with private funding. Further, I submit that the public dollars that would/could be used to make it a viable project would be better spent on many other projects that require less public support and provide more of broader economic impact to downtown.
I believe that the most intelligent way to save the Arcade property is to correctly stabilize it from further decay and then develop the properties around it. Once these surrounding properties realize stronger rental and retail rates and values, the site would then have a ARV (after repair value) that is commiserate with the cost to bring it back to a condition that is worthy of its design and place in Dayton’s history.
Regarding the grocery store question, I am no expert, but I can speak on behalf of friends that have done similar projects in urban markets. Unfortunately, these markets struggled for many reasons. People want the convenience of a downtown store but they don’t want to pay for it. The margins are very tight and the inventory is constantly expiring. Unless a large player could be talked into the market, folks would have to be willing to pay 20%, 30% or even 40% more for items that they could buy at the Kroger, or the like. That being said, we are still working on that issue and have a creative solution or two that could act as bridge until that residency downtown hits a sufficient density to support a full service market or the right operator decides that they want to roll the dice.
You are from Tulsa, Oklahoma. What brought you to Dayton, and what about this city makes investment so appealing?
Simple answer: Mrs. Sheila Crane talked me into it. Dayton can blame her for talking me into exploring the Dayton market, starting in 2013. I have met many a Daytonian that love their Dayton and are willing to fight for it. I look for that in markets and communities I work in. Couple the people with the economic data, and the writing was on the wall that Dayton is heading in the right direction. It was only matter a time before things were going to get exciting. In the last 12 months alone, Dayton has made it on to the top 12 fastest appreciating housing market list. Additionally, downtown has experienced a 97% residential tenancy rate and seen residential apartment monthly rates that exceed $1.40 per square foot.
What is the biggest challenge that you deal with when working in the Dayton market?
Most of the Daytonians I’ve met are great, however there are those that are still stuck in the past. These anachronistic folks represent an enormous challenge to individuals like myself when attempting to bring both capital and opportunities into the market. I have spoken to countless investors who were told by local realtors not to invest in Dayton (downtown specifically). When meeting with local banks, they were given a myriad of reasons why their respective boards would not invest in downtown or with an out-of-state group. As with any negative, there is always a positive and in this instance, the aforementioned hurdle also represents the opportunity for passionate folks like myself to have a much larger impact.