Courthouse Square: Next ‘piece of the puzzle’ for downtown Dayton transformation

Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Partnership lead group that is meeting to re-envision key space in the heart of downtown.

Two local organizations are leading a push to make Courthouse Square more like the activity-generating community asset many hoped it would be when it was created decades ago instead of the underutilized and deteriorating space they say it has become.

Courthouse Square hosts events, festivals and lunchtime programming, but some local business and economic development leaders say it could become so much more with the right improvements and changes.

Also, the property has been used for activities that officials say hurt downtown, like the Ku Klux Klan-affiliated hate group rally in 2019.

“What we have today isn’t working,” said Chris Kershner, president and CEO of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, which is leading the new effort along with the Downtown Dayton Partnership. “Courthouse Square is the heart of our economic center downtown and we need to do a better job leveraging this asset.”

Courthouse Square, created in the 1970s, was once one of the big success stories of urban renewal in Dayton, offering a new gathering space in the center of downtown.



Courthouse Square, located along North Main Street between Second and Third streets, has a stage, a large brick plaza, terrace seating, benches and tables, a fountain and three office buildings, as well as the old historic courthouse.

The property hosts the “Square is Where” during the workweek in the warmer months, offering live music and entertainment, food vendors, games, tournaments and themed days.

Many gatherings and community events are held in the space, often bringing food trucks and other vendors.

The office buildings are privately owned, but the city owns some of the land they sit on, and the square’s outdoor entertainment facility is operated by Montgomery County.

In recent years, the space has been underutilized and has fallen into disrepair, according to local business leaders, and some of its features aren’t working, like the fountain.

Below-ground commercial spaces that were once used as restaurants and public restrooms were shut down many years ago.

Some events are sparsely attended, and the square is empty or mostly empty a lot of the time.

The Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Dayton Partnership have created a new stakeholder committee with the stated goal to help make Courthouse Square a “community managed vibrant asset.”

The new committee, which consists of private and public sector partners, met in mid-June to seek input from downtown businesses and civic organizations, Kershner said.

The stakeholder committee plans to work with a consultant to evaluate the property and determine what physical repairs are needed to stabilize it, Kershner said.

The committee also plans to work with a consultant to assist the community with developing a vision and plan to transform the square, he said.

“We hope to have the consultants begin their work before the end of the year and we will work until we get it right,” Kershner said. “Given the strong economic momentum in downtown Dayton, now is the perfect time to get started.”

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Credit: Tom Gilliam

The goal is to transform this critical public space into a valuable asset that contributes to the fabric and economic vitality of downtown, said Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership.

Courthouse Square is mostly open public space, and the bulk of the needed repairs are cosmetic, she said, adding that a structural analysis needs to be completed to determine current conditions.

“We have seen so much incredible progress in our downtown in recent years, and revitalizing Courthouse Square is the next step so our downtown workforce, residents and community can once again use and enjoy this public space in the heart of our downtown,” Gudorf said.

Courthouse Square is sandwiched between two economic development success stories: The Dayton Arcade and the Schuster Center, local leaders said.

Courthouse Square and the Dayton Arcade — which is located just south of the property — were meant to be two chambers of the heart of downtown, generating street-level vibrancy and activity, said John Gower, an urban designer who works for the city of Dayton and CityWide.

Courthouse Square originally was part of a network of civic investments and amenities that sought to attract, retain and grow economic activity downtown, especially along the Main Street spine, and additions included the development of the Dayton Convention Center and Dave Hall Plaza, he said.

The convention center opened in 1973 and Dave Hall Plaza was dedicated in the early 1970s.

In addition to the rehab of the arcade, Main Street will benefit from a $31 million renovation to the convention center, and Dave Hall Plaza has been transformed into the Levitt Pavilion Dayton, a free music venue.

The Levitt is located a block south of Courthouse Square, and the convention center is just south of that.

Courthouse Square “is another piece of puzzle,” Gower said. “This is about reactivating, renewing and reinventing a block that will then feed into this bigger economic strategy about the Main Street core.”

Leaders say while Courthouse Square hosts many positive community gatherings, it also has been used for events that are “not reflective” of the community that had negative impacts on downtown, namely the hate group rally in 2019.

Montgomery County officials said they had to approve the group’s permit because of First Amendment free speech protections.

The county denied the group’s request for a permit the following year, citing public safety concerns and the huge costs to local governments to provide security.

The stakeholder committee’s June agenda indicates that there was talk about making the square a “sustainable, privately managed” amenity.

Gudorf said all viable options for the property will be considered and evaluated and no decisions have been made about its future.

Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein said she’s glad business leaders are prioritizing the Courthouse Square property.

“The city is thankful for leadership from the Downtown Dayton Partnership and Chamber of Commerce and look forward to working with the stakeholders to reimagine this 48-year-old space,” she said.

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