Levitt Pavilion’s first season: Was it a success? ‘I was very impressed’

The first season of downtown’s new outdoor music pavilion came to a close on Sunday, but some people haven’t stopped singing the venue’s praises.

The Levitt Pavilion Dayton’s free concerts brought more than 25,000 people downtown, activating what was a seldom-used park in the heart of the city.

Parts of Downtown felt more alive on Levitt concert nights, and some concert-goers before and after the shows hit up nearby businesses, including bars and restaurants.

“I absolutely think the Levitt is bringing more people downtown, and folks seemed to be stopping in a little bit before shows, and definitely afterwards,” said Emily Mendenhall, owner of Lilly’s Bistro at 329 E. Fifth St. in the Oregon District.

Some business owners say the pavilion was a big hit and predict even larger crowds next season.

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The roughly $5 million music pavilion at Dave Hall Plaza hosted its inaugural concert on Aug. 9.

The state-of-the-art amphitheater put on shows nearly every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday through the beginning of this month. Dave Hall Plaza is along South Main Street, between Fourth and Fifth streets.

Several shows attracted monster crowds. The largest audience exceeded 3,000 people, who gathered to see the Dayton Funk All-Stars Band.

The smallest crowd was around 70 people, but that show was relocated to the top of the Crowne Plaza because of the rains from Hurricane Gordon, supporters said.

“(For) the first year and an abbreviated season, we exceeded our goals in terms of attendance, inclusion and community building,” said Jeff Ireland, board chair of the Friends of Levitt Pavilion Dayton. “The national Levitt Foundation continues to be thrilled by our success.”

The Levitt, which is part of a national network of free-concert venues, provided a couple million dollars worth of music programming across 33 shows, all while not charging visitors a penny, officials said. The venue will host at least 50 free shows each year in future seasons.

The Levitt shows succeeded in breaking down barriers to bring people together, countering the misperception that downtown should be avoided Dayton at night, Ireland said.

The audiences were about as diverse as the types of music genres and performers who took the stage.

“If there was any doubt, we have established that free music brings people together in a positive way,” Ireland said. “Consistent, free, high-quality music is an equalizer and the space we created was very welcoming.”

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Many connections were made this season on and off the pavilion’s lawn, which is the main part of Levitt’s mission, said Lisa Wagner, executive director of the Levitt Pavilion Dayton.

“The community readily embraced the Levitt and it showed in the community building and attendance,” she said.

The aspiration is for the Levitt to be downtown’s living room — a centerpiece of a new urban neighborhood in the center of the city.

The Levitt, along with the planned reopening of the Dayton Arcade, are at the center of a revitalization strategy for a nine-block section of downtown that seeks to reuse and fill up many empty and underutilized office buildings.

New housing is being targeted for a large vacant building, just north of the pavilion.

A Columbus architecture firm that purchased a nearby property on West Fifth Street that it hopes to redevelop credited the Levitt for breathing new life into the area. The hope is that the Levitt will be a catalyst that supports existing businesses and lures new ones.

“Our sales were certainly up in August and September,” said Diane Spitzig, owner of the Century Bar, which is half a block from the amphitheater. “Although they’ve been up all year, I do think the Levitt has helped.”

Some of the Levitt bands stopped in the Century after the concerts for drinks.

Third Perk Coffeehouse & Wine Bar, at 56 W. Fifth St., capitalized on the Levitt's opening by selling snack packs offering wraps, wine, desserts and other options.

Juanita Darden, Third Perk’s owner, says she believes buzz about the venue is spreading and there will be bigger crowds in the future.

“I was very impressed how the community really embraced the space,” she said.

The snack pack sales weren’t as good as Darden had hoped. She usually sold about five to 10 snack packs per concert, well short of her goal of 40 per show.

But she said one contributing factor was not most concert-goers did not park near her shop, which is located on the west of Main Street. Most seemed to park at the Transportation Center Garage and areas near the Oregon District.

She’s hopeful that more attendees will swing by Third Perk for snack packs or after-concert treats.

After some Levitt shows, a steady stream of concert-goers flocked to the Oregon District, looking for drinks, grub and more entertainment.

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Corner Kitchen, 613 E. Fifth St. in the Oregon District, saw larger nighttime crowds at around 9 to 9:30 p.m., when the shows concluded, said Natalie Skilliter, general manager and co-owner of the restaurant.

“I truly wasn’t expecting to see much of an impact on my business from the Levitt’s opening but am pleased to say that I have indeed seen an uptick,” said Skilliter, who is also the president of the Oregon District Business Association.

Skilliter says she expects to see a lot more collaboration between the Levitt and Oregon District businesses in the second season. She said there’s already been discussions about partnership opportunities.

The Levitt’s biggest impact on Lilly’s Bistro, at the western edge of the Oregon District’s business corridor, was in a late night “pop” of customers after shows, who often came in for desserts and drinks, said Mendenhall, the owner.

“In the summertime, we keep our kitchen open late and also offer late night food and drink specials, so it was a really great fit for us,” she said.

The second season of the Levitt opens on May 30.

The Levitt is very close to the Oregon District and a variety of downtown businesses and maybe the venue can use its digital screens to promote the walkability, some business owners said.

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