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Riverfront Attraction Sought in Dayton as Community Considers Its Options

A public forum convened Wednesday night in Dayton, intended to discuss the future of the city’s lengthy and much debated riverfront, yielded as many questions as it did
And that was the point.
More specifically, the meeting was called to gather public input on two major proposals concerning Dayton’s shoreline properties. The first, Dayton’s contribution to the much anticipated Riverfront Commons project — a walking/biking trail and green space that will eventually span the Northern Kentucky riverfront from Ludlow to Fort Thomas — and, second, a recently proposed community pier development.
In the end, it became clear that one project could very directly impact the other, with numerous moving parts in play and an equal amount of potential to be achieved.
The city previously approved the committee behind the pier project to consult the engineering and design firm KZF, the same firm behind the design of Smale Park along
the Ohio riverfront, to survey the Dayton shore and begin conceptual planning for a community pier.
While specific questions regarding the pier, including shape, dimensions, and structure could not be answered definitively, questions of how the pier would tie in with
revitalization efforts within the City of Dayton, including the Manhattan Harbour development, as well as the already in progress Riverfront Commons project and existing
city assets like the flood levee dominated the conversation Wednesday night.
Jon Wiley of KZF led the forum, asking questions primarily geared toward where residents would like to see a pier installed, while making sure to solicit feedback for the walking/biking trail. The two dominant suggestions for the pier’s location were where Berry St. dead­-ends near the riverfront, on one hand, and closer to the Manhattan
Harbour development, on the other. Concerns regarding accessibility were central to considering the two options.
Mayor Virgil Boruske, who attended Wednesday’s meeting, said, “I want (the pier to be) a good meeting place, that’s accessible. If we’re going to spend the money, I want
everyone to be able to get to it."
Pointing to a location closer to Manhattan Harbour, which would theoretically offer more parking options, he added, “We can’t expect everyone to walk the whole length of
City Administrator Michael Giffen quickly chimed in, saying, “Absolutely, the infrastructure needs to be there."
Closer and more walkable access from Dayton’s central business district was also proposed. Dayton’s Main Street Manager Anthony Cadle said, “I want to see the heart of
this (pier) have Main St. access,” before then inquiring into multiple points of access to the pier.
“I’d say that’s desirable,” responded Wiley.
It was at this point that the discussion revealed how malleable these two development projects could be, both individually and as a unit. More so, some began to wonder how the pier would fit into the city’s existing commitment to the Riverfront Commons project.
Councilman Joe Neary asked if the pier project could be conceived as a shore­adjacent pathway, similar to what KZF did across the river. When asked if such an approach could make the pier and trail projects more integrated, Wiley said, “It’s a given that we’re already going to integrate with (Riverfront Commons)."
But Neary wasn't the only one to wonder exactly how the pier idea could be implemented on the riverfront in relation to the trail project. Dayton resident and former landscape designer Roy Newman said, “I’m concerned about a whole lot of money being spent on a pier and then just cottonwood (landscaping) along the (bike/walking) trail. The trail experience has to be aesthetically appealing."
But for Dayton resident Catherine Hamilton Hicks, one of the first to propose the idea of a pier to the city, it comes down to having something distinctive along the Riverfront Commons trail. “To have something unique to Dayton that’s a destination and is an experience, it’s important to have that attraction."
For Newman, though, landscape and trail development, before developing a pier, would be a quicker bang for the city’s buck. Such a development, for Newman, would then create a better backdrop for a pier.
Ultimately, it will come down to funding for the city, and the availability of funding might direct the city toward which project is pursued more aggressively. Giffen explained that it may be more difficult to find funding for a pier project than for a walking/biking trail along the riverfront.
“A pier out into the water will cost millions,” he predicted at the meeting, while simultaneously noting that the city already has Southbank Partners actively advocating for each river city’s participation in the Riverftront Commons development.
That’s not to say, though, that funding for the pier project cannot be secured, especially with citizens advocating as strongly as was seen on Wednesday night. “This is progress,” said Hicks. “(These projects) can go hand in hand."
Neary, reflecting on Wednesday’s discussion, said, "This city is moving forward; it's an exciting time for Dayton."
Ultimately, as Wiley put it, this meeting is “not just (about) where we put a pier, but how it relates to everything else," and while the look of Dayton’s riverfront remains very much out of focus, it remains clear that all the moving parts are constantly being considered in tandem with each other.
Story & photos by Pat LaFleur, RCN contributor