A redevelopment plan is in the works for a 200-acre tract of Harrison Twp. that once thrived as a center of amusement, then as a shopping center that spiraled downhill in recent decades and saw its buildings leveled more recently.
Now, Forest Park “is a very blank slate as far as what might be possible,” said Steve Naas, president of County Corps, one of the partners seeking to recreate the identity of the site along North Main Street south of Shoup Mill Road.
An online survey is underway and on Monday, County Corp, Harrison Twp. and Montgomery County will host a public meeting to gather input for a Forest Park redevelopment plan.
Forest Park Area Plan meeting
Monday, Jan. 29
Horizon Science Academy
250 Shoup Mill Road
For more information visit the project website at www.countycorp.com/forestpark.
During the early-20th century, people flocked to see wild animals at a zoo, then to Frankie’s Forest Park to dance, watch car races and ride the rollercoaster. The amusement park closed in 1958. Later, Forest Park Plaza, Dayton’s earliest open-air retail center opened on the site anchored by a J.C. Penney.
Shopping habits and demographics shifted again. In 2013, the shopping mall was razed for scrap and a couple years later the buildings that housed a Ford dealership followed.
The most prominent feature of the 55-plus acres that contained the shopping plaza is a vast swath of deteriorating concrete that had been parking lots and building foundations.
“There was a certain amount of blighting influence that happened on a good portion of this study area,” Naas said.
Yet there are encouraging new signs the area is inching forward, he said.
Aided by a tax increment financing district and newer roadways, another auto dealership invested in the area. Two schools — Dayton Public’s Charity Adams Earley Academy and the The Horizon Science Academy, a charter school — are in the plan area and continue to attract students. The Girl Scouts of Western Ohio – Dayton office draws activities and people.
Naas said a recent reinvestment surge in housing — both in single family dwellings and apartment complexes — is beginning to pay off and makes the timing right to map out a larger plan.
“Some things are really providing momentum for having this conversation,” he said.
About 85 percent of the 549 units at the Rivers Edge Apartments & Townhomes have been completely gutted and renovated within the last three years, said Jenifer Gasper, a leasing professional with Towne Properties, the company that manages the buildings along Riverside Drive. The rest should be completed this spring, she said.
“We’ve definitely turned it around and have it up and coming,” she said.
Naas said because a recreation path and the Stillwater River are nearby, connecting people with those outdoor elements will likely be a key aspect of any new plan, but little else seems certain.
MKSK Studios, a Covington, Ky. urban design and planning firm, has been hired to distill the public input and develop a sustainable plan.
“Overall, this is a planning effort in which we will generate a strategy for the long-term redevelopment of that area,” Naas said. “It’s not something we are going to turn around tomorrow.”
Kevin Achs now lives in one of the updated Rivers Edge apartments.
The 50-year-old grew up in east Dayton but was no stranger to the Shiloh neighborhood and Forest Park where he sometimes came as a kid in the 1980s. He said while his mother shopped, he and friends would test their putting skills at the Adventure Golf, which closed for good in 2009.
Achs said he’d like to see multiple facets in a new plan, including a park, a community center, a neighborhood grocery store, shops and an eatery or two.
“Anything they do would be nice as long as they got rid of the concrete and planted trees to make it look nice so you don’t come down here and see that bare land,” he said.