- Kara Driscoll Staff Writer
The rippling waters at the new RiverScape River Run signify a changing tide in downtown Dayton — yet another development that officials hope will bring residents and economic development back to the core of the city.
After two years of construction and nearly 20 years of plans in the making, Five Rivers MetroParks is debuting its $4 million RiverScape River Run project this week. Community leaders will celebrate its grand opening with a ceremony Friday evening.
“RiverScape River Run is one of the most impactful projects in our region,” said Carrie Scarff, Five Rivers MetroParks chief of planning and projects. “River Run was identified as a high-priority project in the Greater Downtown Dayton Plan because of its potential to improve economic vitality and help regional businesses attract and retain top talent.”
Five Rivers MetroParks, which boasts 3.3 million visitors annually at its parks, is expecting to draw even more crowds from water enthusiasts and spectators for the attraction that includes two rock and concrete structures that span the Great Miami River between the Main and Monument streets bridges.
One river chute, located near East Monument Avenue near the Dayton Art Institute, includes two features: one smooth-water passageway for novice paddlers and a whitewater chute for those daredevil kayakers. The second chute, located near the Main Street bridge, includes similar passageway for boaters.
Mike Ervin, co-chair of the Downtown Dayton Partnership, said the project is years in the making, and the true efforts of an entire community that have come to fruition. In 2010, the project started to be discussed as a possible economic driver for the region — the type of one-of-a-kind feature that would lure people back to the city for outdoor entertainment.
“It’s going to be a catalyst,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a gathering spot, I really do.”
The run will allow experienced kayakers to do flips and stunt tricks, while stand-up paddlers and even surfers have already utilized the run. Community officials envision the space as an area for spectators and people looking to relax in the sun.
“Way back when we started this, it wasn’t booming,” Ervin said. “Now everyone is excited to be part of it. When people actually see cranes constructing new libraries and new office buildings and apartments, they actually see it and go, ‘This is real.’ This river run is just another thing that people see and put the whole thing together. They see Dayton really is having a comeback.”
The River Run was born out of an idea by local resident Bernie Farley, the owner of the Dayton Whitewater Warehouse. Progress really got moving when the James M. Cox Foundation issued a $1 million grant in July 2011. The foundation is an entity of Cox Media Group, this newspaper’s parent company.
The River Run is just one part of the push to revitalize downtown. As apartments like the Water Street Flats and the Delco Lofts are well on their way to completion, developers are working to secure funding for an estimated $80 million rehab of the Dayton Arcade.
As residential and commercial development projects build momentum, residents and business owners are feeling confident about downtown’s future growth. More than 450 business communities participated in an annual business survey by the Downtown Dayton Partnership, and results showed about 78 percent of them felt downtown Dayton was better off than three years ago.
“It’s great to see the progress that’s happening downtown,” said Sandra Gudorf, Downtown Dayton Partnership president. “It’s exciting when news breaks about a new townhome being built, or a new restaurant opening, or when a new business announces it’s moving downtown, but we want to make sure that growth is happening in a way that’s impactful and sustainable.”
The businesses that participated in the survey also found it was most important for the region to: support startups, activate first floor storefronts, fill vacant office space and add housing options. Other important initiatives included developing the Arcade and working on signage and lighting.
Another $614 million worth of projects are in the pipeline, which totals to a nearly $1.25 billion investment in downtown investment.
But some say the impacts of the River Run are far-reaching — impacting communities beyond Dayton. Sarah Hippensteel Hall, manager of Watershed Partnership, said projects of all scales are popping up along on the 99-mile corridor of the Great Miami Riverway.
Through the $1 million Great Miami Riverway Placemaking Initiative, communities from Sidney down to Hamilton are trying to develop and market the river to attract residents and tourists to the area for bicycle riding, paddling, running, walking and outdoor recreation.
“Obviously having something as unique as a whitewater feature is going to be a real asset. It’s not something a lot of cities have,” Hippensteel Hall said. “The river ties everyone together. An attraction like this is bringing attention to these neighborhoods on the river, and it’s going to strengthen them.”
The free grand opening event will happen despite the high river level. The event starts at 4:30 p.m. with official remarks from community leaders under the park pavilion. Project partners include leaders from the park district, the Downtown Dayton Partnership, Miami Conservancy District, city of Dayton and Montgomery County.
The Pickin’ in the Park music series will kick off at 6 p.m. The night will feature live tunes by progressive bluegrass musicians, and local craft beer and food trucks will also be available to enjoy at the park.
Check the Five Rivers MetroParks website for more information.
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