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Posted: 5:45 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013

I-TEAM INVESTIGATION

Dayton considers fate of empty downtown buildings

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The office vacancy rate in Dayton’s central business district is the nation's highest at 34 percent.
Motorists entering downtown Dayton from the south are greeted by this abandoned building at 225 S. Main Street. The office building/parking garage was built in 1925 and features a total of 157,000 square feet.

By Jim Otte and I-Team Reporter

DAYTON —

Wall Street is making a comeback, so why not Main Street in downtown Dayton? The slow rebound from the recession has left several large office buildings in the city sitting empty. It is a problem for business owners who depend on a lot of foot traffic downtown.

Georgetta Cornett has run a hair salon downtown for more than 40 years. She has seen fewer people downtown ever since Rikes and other department stores closed years ago.

"I think it is noticeable, yes," Cornett said.

While the city of Dayton has pursued a redevelopment strategy downtown, so far it has been unsuccessful in filling multiple towers that are completely empty. The biggest is the 14 story office building, now known as the Paru Tower, built across from Courthouse Square in 1926. The building is among several now targeted by David McDonald, who runs his own commercial real estate company and wants to put together a community development group to fund local projects.

"We have got to start soon," said McDonald, "There is not much time left."

The other buildings on his "hit list" are 25 South Main, an 11 story office tower built in 1917 that has been empty for decades, and a 1970 building at 40 West 4th Street.

How many empty buildings are there? The I-Team has learned the downtown office vacancy rate is 23% for top-rate, newer office space and 40% for older buildings. A variety of studies put the vacancy rate here higher than in downtown Detroit and many other cities. The figures come from market analyst Dave Dickerson of the Miller Valentine-Gem Real Estate Group.

"We have many buildings that have reached the end of their economic life," Dickerson said. He cautions though, that there is currently no funding source to pay for demolition and redevelopment.

Launching a plan to tear down buildings does not sit well with the city administration. Shelley Dickstein, Assistant City Manager for Strategic Development, said any plan must include details on funding, development partnerships and other aspects of the project.

"It has to be a multi-prong strategy," said Dickstein.

Much of the city's focus has been to attract more downtown housing. The next project, about to be launched in 2014, is called "Water Street." It will come on vacant city land north of Fifth Third Field along the Mad River with a mix of retail, housing and new office space.

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