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Fairgrounds to future

4:11 PM  Jan 11th, 2018
by Eric F. Spina

In a recent conversation with leaders of the West Dayton community at a Trotwood church, the talk turned to the future of the former Montgomery County fairgrounds.

“We hope whatever happens there helps knit together our community,” one leader told me.

That gave me pause. While the Great Miami River physically divides our community, the fabric of Dayton is made up of a rich tapestry of people from diverse cultures, races, religions, socioeconomic backgrounds and nationalities. As an anchor institution with a civic focus and a religious mission, we strive to be inclusive and welcoming.

The University of Dayton and Premier Health, new owners of the 38-acre “fairgrounds” parcel, are starting with a clean slate as we think about the renaissance of this land on the edge of downtown and adjacent to both of our campuses. Why can’t we use this once-in-a-lifetime redevelopment opportunity to build more than new buildings?

Let’s use it to build community. Let’s use it to serve the needs of our two institutions — and the common good.

Many on campus and in the community feel the same way. When I walked into the Coliseum at the former Montgomery County fairgrounds for a community forum in November, the feeling of excitement and possibility was palpable. The place surged with energy.

For more than an hour, small groups of people from cross-sections of the Dayton community brainstormed ideas, scribbled them on oversized sheets of paper, prioritized them — and creatively envisioned what the future could hold. Similar scenes played out on campus and within the health system as hundreds of ideas have emerged from this collective show of imagination.

The participants — from all walks of life in our community — envisioned a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use development on the doorstep of downtown Dayton. A place that could attract new businesses and restaurants. A place that connects to the Great Miami River and a resurgence of development in downtown Dayton. A place that welcomes young people who want to study, live and work in our community.

Our partner, planning NEXT, is an urban design firm that understands this property is a special place filled with memories and possibilities. As the firm’s co-founder Jamie Greene told the gathering, “We’re trying to find the sweet spot between high-order aspirations and what we can do together. This is really a community-minded vision.”

It’s not too late to participate. I invite you to visit fairgroundstofuture.org and offer your thoughts. We’ll hold more workshops in January to review the development framework before finalizing a long-range master plan in the spring.

Everyone’s voice matters as we imagine the possibilities, as we strengthen the bonds of community.

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