A company interested in investing $250 million for a new facility on prairie land at the airport has backed out after months of protests against the proposal and legal maneuvers by a neighboring city, Dayton leaders said Friday, meaning 600 to 700 high-paying jobs will not come to the city.
Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein said the city of Union’s court filing about the property clouded the title to the land, causing delays and ultimately killing a deal that would have generated $1.2 million in annual income tax revenue for the city.
“I am sorry to announce today that we have lost the opportunity to attract a $250 million investment into the city of Dayton,” Dickstein said, noting the estimate includes the construction and equipping of the facility.
Union City Manager John Applegate contested Dayton’s statements. He pointed to an earlier annexation agreement between Union and Dayton that said the land could be used only for “necessary airport operations,” like the extension of a runway.
Dayton violated the terms of the agreement, and Union is not responsible for Dayton losing these potential jobs, Applegate said.
“I am a man of my word and I expect Dayton to be the same,” he said.
None of the parties involved would name the company, but Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said the business planned as many as 700 new manufacturing jobs that have an annual average salary of $75,000.
“We know that we are unlikely to have a single investment of this magnitude in the immediate future, and we are beyond disappointed to lose this opportunity for our city,” said Whaley.
Union’s affidavit about the land was clearly a legal move intended to prevent the Dayton site from being selected for the project, while strengthening its own competitive case for being picked, Dickstein said.
Dayton and Union entered into an agreement involving the Knoop prairie property in 2016, and all related documents have been filed with the courts, said Applegate.
“Union disagrees with Dayton’s position on this matter totally,” Applegate said. “I have no further comments on this matter as there is a pending lawsuit.”
Groups and individuals opposed to the redevelopment of the Paul E. Knoop Jr. Prairie for months signed petitions, sent messages and spoke at Dayton City Commission meetings to urge elected leaders, the potential developer and airport and city officials to scrap plans for an industrial project.
“As the leader of an organization whose essentials functions would clearly be impacted by the destruction of the Paul E. Knoop Jr. Prairie, I am obviously relieved that we appear to have more time to work together on a win-win solution, which I fervently hope involves preserving this important ecosystem, its watershed protection and its functions as a carbon sink, in perpetuity,” said Alexis Faust, executive director of Aullwood Audubon.
The city, however, still plans to redevelop the site after additional environmental studies.
Earlier this year, the city of Dayton announced a developer was interested in building a new facility on a large section of Knoop prairie. The prairie sits on 140 acres of land at the northeast corner of Frederick Pike and West National Road.
The Dayton International Airport owns the property, which is one of the oldest reconstructed prairies in the state. The prairie was established in the mid-1990s.
Since May, several hundred prairie and Aullwood Audubon supporters have attended most weekly Dayton City Commission meetings to try to pressure the city to “save” the prairie.
Many people said the destruction of the prairie would harm the watershed for Wiles Creek, which runs through the Aullwood Audubon property and flows into Aullwood Garden MetroPark.
But city leadership held fast and insisted the project was a good thing for the city of Dayton and its residents.
In a complaint filed in July, the city of Dayton said Union deliberately tried to “cast a cloud over Dayton’s title” to 110 acres of prairie land targeted for redevelopment to get the potential buyer to back out of a purchase contract.
Dayton claimed Union “slandered” its title and rights to sell the land for redevelopment by filing an official affidavit to try to get the buyer to instead purchase property in Union for an industrial project.
Many people who opposed the redevelopment of the Knoop prairie suggested the project could be relocated to another city-owned property, Dickstein said Friday during a press conference.
But the city proposed alternative sites, and none were able to meet the tenant’s “aggressive” timeline for building and opening a new facility, she said.
The company was ready to start work on the project, but chose to walk away because the title issues were causing delays hindering its project schedule, Dickstein said.
The Dayton airport is an important development site, and the city will conduct additional environmental studies to determine the mitigation measures necessary for the future development of the prairie property, Dickstein said.
Whaley said the deal’s collapse means the city will lose out on $1.2 million in annual income tax revenue, which she said means the city lost an opportunity to invest more $1 million in the neighborhoods for blight removal, lot mowing and other essential services.
The loss also means the city will not be able to approve a development agreement that would have required the company to prioritize the hiring of Dayton residents, Whaley said.
“For us, it’s about the income tax and bringing our people out of poverty so they have opportunity for middle-class lives,” Whaley said.
NorthPoint Development had rights to the site and was working with the tenant about constructing a facility, city officials said. The new facility, officials said, would have been about 300,000 square feet with the ability to expand to 1 million square feet.
Since 2016, developers have built 2.7 million square feet of logistics and manufacturing space on airport property, and the five facilities have about 2,000 jobs, the city said.
The city is still challenging Union’s affidavit for future redevelopment of the site, officials said.
Faust, with Aullwood Audubon, said her organization’s concerns about the property were not about a specific tenant and she hopes the prairie is preserved.
“We need to work together to find the right balance between essential economic development and high-paying jobs and preserving one of the critical elements of what attracts the talented workforce to our region to compete for those jobs,” she said.