Dayton Gets Real: Officials redeveloping neighborhood impacted by 1966 Dayton Riots

DAYTON, Ohio — On this day 55 years ago, a white man shot and killed a black bar owner on the city’s west side, setting off days of violence and chaos.

The 1966 Dayton riot’s lingering consequences meant the loss of countless black businesses and livelihoods and those consequences have continued for generations.

News Center 7′s Candace Price continues to take a look at the riots and why some have questions about the solutions city leaders are pushing.

Destroyed, abandoned, and forgotten since the 1966 riots, the historic Wright-Dunbar district has remained in various states of disarray with little being done about it. That is, until now.

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Erica Hubler, Director of Real Estate for Wright Dunbar, Inc., said, “If you walk down third street the walk of fame is there. You see all the great people that came before us and we’re recognizing them. They changed the world, and we can still do that.”

With all that history on her mind, for the last 20 years, Hubler has dedicated herself to improving a part of Dayton she said was once considered a lost cause.

She said, “This neighborhood was slated to be demolished.”

Then, in the 90′s during the urban renewal boom, Hubler’s non-profit focused on preservation, Wright Dunbar, Inc. started buying up rundown buildings.

“Its roof had caved in. It was all the way into the basement. This all boarded up. That’s what this while neighborhood looked like before,” Hubler said.

Wright Dunbar, Inc. purchased as many buildings as they could and put roofs on them. However, even though Hubler estimates 10,000 visitors trek through the neighboring Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park each year, most, she says, do not stick around the area after their visit.

“One of our main focuses was to bring amenities for the people who live here, work here and, of course, the visitors to the national park,” she said.

Amenities such as Debbie Social, a food hall, currently under construction on West Third Street.

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Hubler said, “All of our restaurants are minority owned. Female owned or veteran owned. Most of them are from the area.”

It’s a $2 million project. Hubler said her non-profit and another development group called Dillin, Inc. are sharing most of the cost with the city of Dayton also investing up to $250,000.

Dayton City Commissioner Matt Joseph said, “The last few decades we spent over $40 million in that neighborhood. It might be the most of any neighborhood.”

Jasmine Brown who owns DeLish Café said, “Me going into the food hall makes perfect sense. And it brings things kind of full circle for me.”

Brown will be a food hall vendor when it finally opens.

“I’ve always tried to move away from Dayton, but for some reason God has kept me here,” Brown said.

Brown said most of her friends and family are in Dayton, which is one reason she’s decided to stay and be a part of its growth.

She said, “My grandmother and my mom and all my aunts – they lived right down the street on Broadway. That’s where they grew up. So, to be so close to where my family grew up, it does something to you.”

While Brown is on board with the redevelopment plans for West Dayton, she said not everyone agrees.

“The chatter that initially I heard from some people was ‘so this is like a black neighborhood, why is there a white company coming in.’ I’m like do yo use anyone else of color that is coming over wanting to invest?”, Brown said.

Commissioner Joseph said, “We loved to give priority to an African-American developer, but this community is poor. We’re glad anyone wants to come.”

Many in this neighborhood still see the scars of the 1966 riots. But, for Brown, she sees this new development as an opportunity to be a part of a West Dayton black business owner’s legacy.

For Hubler, its about giving back to a community that gave so much to her as she recovered from the damage the tornadoes did to her home on Memorial Day in 2019.

The West Third Street Bridge heading downtown is scheduled to open in October while the Debbie Social Food Hall is scheduled to open in December. Both projects are coming together at the right time in a city that has known so much destruction.