Daytonian of the Week: Architect Matt Sauer is reimagining the Gem City

What’s the common denominator among Old Scratch Pizza, The Gem City Catfe and K12 Gallery — some of Dayton’s popular spots? They are all buildings repurposed by Dayton architect Matt Sauer.

Sauer has conceptualized the Gem City for years and is currently working on the Gem City Market, the new co-op grocery planned for the Salem Avenue corridor.

What does he relish about his role in the community? This week's Daytonian of the Week tells us in his own words.

Tell us a little about yourself? How long have you been in Dayton and what brought you here? 

My parents moved to Dayton after my dad accepted a position with a contractor working at Wright-Patt. I was a toddler. We lived in the Dayton View Triangle until I was a teenager and then we moved to the Mount Vernon neighborhood, right across from Colonel White High School, which I attended.

I moved to Philadelphia for college and lived there for 10 years. Then I found a position with a firm here in Dayton and that brought me back. My wife, Meridith, is from South Carolina. Before we moved here she had only been to Dayton in November and December. She was pleasantly surprised by spring and fall!

You are an architect. What are some projects that folks might know that you have worked on? 

I worked for Rogero Buckman Architects (RBA) for five years and started my own practice around 2012. At RBA I was fortunate to work on the Real Art building on East 1st Street, Wright Brothers Pre K-8 School, and the Litehouse Townhomes. Since opening my own office, I’ve worked with a lot of small business owners to help them repurpose old buildings. Some notable projects are K12 Gallery, Old Scratch Pizza, St. Anne the Tart, Gem City Catfe, and the new Ghostlight Coffee location on South Patterson Boulevard.

For the last year I’ve been working on the Gem City Market co-op grocery, which has been amazing. It’s a completely new building. I’ve learned a lot about the grocery business through the client and with my collaborator Alex Bohler. I can’t wait to see construction start. I can’t wait to buy my first basket of groceries there. It will be four blocks from my house.

What do you enjoy about your career? 

It satisfies and expands my curiosity about how things work. Architects work at all these different scales at once, from regional planning and site selection to “how can I give my client a bigger bathroom?” You learn a lot about infrastructure, politics, how investment decisions are made, and how businesses operate. And if you’re lucky, you get to see all of these hidden spaces — basements, catwalks, tunnels. There’s an archaeological aspect to it that’s a lot of fun.

What are some of your favorite structures in the area and why? 

There are so many! I really like the Commercial Building at Fourth and Ludlow, part of the Arcade. It’s a 1920s office building with a stately presence on the corner. They’re uncovering the stone at the base right now as they renovate the Arcade. The interiors are very cool, too, like the glass-walled elevator shafts and the large Chicago-style windows on the second floor. I also really like the stainless steel wedge office building at the corner of 2nd and Jefferson. You’d think windowless and downtown wouldn’t mix, but it has a mid-century sleekness about it and the stainless steel is always making great reflections. There are pockets of mid-century housing that I love. The apartment buildings on Briar Place near Heather stand out and all the ranch and split levels in Catalpa Woods and Deweese. That period in architecture I associate with.

What is an architectural feature that you see around that just drives you nuts? 

I don’t get worked up about architecture, but I can’t stand surface parking lots. It’s a waste of valuable land and boring if you like walking around cities. In downtown at least there are plenty of parking garages. Dayton is among the most progressive cities in the country in that we have no parking minimums downtown. You could build almost anything and not have to provide one parking space.

In 2016, you wrote an essay about rethinking U.S. 35 through downtown. You proposed removing a portion of it and replacing it with boulevards. Why have freeways been a bad idea for cities? How could this idea help our city? 

There used to be a street called Richards Street that was paved over for U.S. 35. It was a mix of commercial and residential uses that rivaled Xenia Avenue and Wayne Avenue. You could take care of a lot of your day-to-day shopping or dining without going downtown, and there was a tight-knit social network of neighbors. I think today you’d have a hard time convincing anyone to trade that neighborhood for a six-lane highway. It’s laughable.

When I wrote the essay we were living in South Park and I crossed under or over U.S. 35 daily. With downtown seeing such robust new development, it’s clear that the 100-plus acres that U.S. 35 sits on is more valuable than just as land for a highway. Many other cities around the country are coming to the same realization and many have repurposed the land these highways occupied. Some have built parks, recreational wetlands, and many have created new boulevards that are connected to the regular street grid. In those cities, they’ve seen new buildings spring up on the newly created real estate, it’s stimulated economic activity, and it’s made their cities more pedestrian and bike friendly.

If you could wave a magic wand for the city, what would you make happen or change about Dayton? 

I would like to see 30 new independent restaurants open. Independent restaurants drive a lot of the revitalization in neighborhoods. Think Texas Beef and Cattle or Fifth Street Brewpub. Every neighborhood in Dayton should have a corner pub. They’re social hubs.

You are one of the original organizers of Pecha Kucha Dayton. Why do you think PKs are so popular? What do you like about them? 

When Dayton’s PechaKucha Night started, it was around the same time that podcasts started to take off, Storycorp and The Moth were on NPR, and locally we had Dayton Story Slam. Maybe it was an early rebellion against the Internet and social media, but people decided it would be fun to go out in real life and hear people talk about ideas or about what they do. Jill Davis started PK here and she always called it an idea-sharing party, like salons in Paris. I like hearing artists talk about the process or making things and learning why people make the creative decisions that they do. I think the Dayton community shares that curiosity. A PK Night is never predictable. That may be why we managed to build a big community around PK. It started with a room of 30 people and now 400 is routine.

What would be a perfect Dayton date for you? 

Drinks on an outdoor patio somewhere, perhaps a place with a view. Then we’d walk around downtown or RiverScape, watch a movie at The Neon followed by dinner at Corner Kitchen or Roost. Getting coffee, spending the morning going to estate sales, and then getting lunch at Linh’s is completely acceptable, too.

What super power would you love to have? 

This is lame, but I just need to be able to reach across the room to get something without getting up.

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