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Dayton Delays Design Decision

There will be no new drawings for a new city building in Dayton yet.

At a packed city council meeting on Tuesday night, it was decided to postpone the spending of $34,000 for Cincinnati-based design and architectural firm KZF, until the July meeting when the city's finances are clearer and the new fiscal year has begun.

The issue of a new city building in Dayton has dominated community conversation for weeks and most who spoke publicly Tuesday - elected, running, and otherwise - seem to agree that new accommodations are needed. But how, what, and at what cost is where differences start to emerge.

For the past four years, city council meetings have been held at the Dayton Board of Education offices because the city building has become too cramped. The promise of a new city building was made ten years ago when the city entered into a development agreement for the Manhattan Harbour project, the sprawling residential development along the city's riverfront.

A tax increment finance (TIF) district was established for that area as an incentive for the developer, which will allow some monies collected through taxation to be re-invested at the site. The developer would take $2 million of that revenue and apply it to the construction of a new city building for Dayton.

The spot assigned for the city building was 6th & Berry streets where a small green space with a veterans memorial is currently found.

The $2 million from the developer, per the agreement, can only be used for a new city building.

But it is unclear exactly how much a new city building would cost.

And that's part of the problem in the conversation about the project in Dayton. The idea behind tapping a design firm is for the city to assess its needs and to see what a new building may look like and cost. Part of the task for KZF, which was selected at a special meeting last month, would be to survey city building stakeholders on needs and wants, and then come up with a design to reflect that.

And while the need for improved space is accepted, whether the city is able to pay for a new building is in dispute.

The TIF has not yet generated $2 million, and the city would likely need to take out a loan until it collects the full amount from the developer in around the year 2025.

But, City Administrator Michael Giffen said, it has generated $100,000 and that's only with seven houses complete and an apartment project under construction. There will be more to come - and with Manhattan Harbour expected to nearly double the city's population to more than 10,000, appropriate municipal accommodations are necessary.

"The city is in excellent financial shape. We have $2.4 million in reserves, another $700,000 in our economic development fund, and another $200,000 due from the developer for the purchase of Manhattan Harbour," Giffen said. "That is very, very good."

Giffen conceded, though, that those numbers don't necessarily mean that Dayton can afford a new city building. The city already prepared the site at 6th & Berry for a project, by acquiring and tearing down a block of old homes. Now, with council having chosen KZF to produce a design, the project could have moved forward. "I'm the chief financial officer of the city, I don't want to put the city in a financial burden it can't get out of," Giffen said. "This is our opportunity to get into the nitty gritty of it and find out what a city building will cost without blowing the bank on outrageous design fees.

"We're not going to sign on the dotted line for a $2 million loan or a $6 million loan or a $20 million loan until we do a cost analysis."

Though the meeting was crowded Tuesday night and there were heated exchanges and long conversations about the project on social media leading up to it, only a handful of people spoke - and those with an opinion on the matter unanimously opposed the project.

"I'm not going to argue against the need for a new city building, I just think that this part of the project being proposed is overlooking a lot of needs that should be taking priority," said resident Matt Field. "People will see that building going up and remember you guys voted for it, and the massive amount of debt we would have to come up with to pay for it is something people will remember."

"You are asking us to invest in something that would serve a few when there are other needs that would serve many," said resident Beth Field.

Council candidates Scott Beseler and Beth Nyman also spoke against the project.

"I think it's just not the right step right now," Beseler said. "The popular sentiment among people in the community is, they see a huge building being put up among all our small little buildings and I would implore you to put that money somewhere else."

Nyman has long been opposed to the project and voiced her concerns over the demolition of the buildings at 6th and Berry. "People are now asking the questions that I asked a while ago," she said. "There are a lot of concerns, the location, the loss of the green space, the expense of the bond, the reliability of the developer."

Councilman Joe Neary, who cast the lone vote against choosing KZF at the special meeting last month, urged his fellow council members to table discussion on the matter until the July meeting. He said that no needs analysis had been done and that no public discussion had taken place formally until Tuesday night, and also expressed concern over the city's finances since the General Assembly could likely increase the city's annual pension contribution (as high as $250,000) and other infrastructure needs like the roads at Grant Park have to be addressed, too. 

"I request that we table until July, until we get the financials in from this fiscal year, and until we find out what's coming from Frankfort," Neary said.

By a vote of 6-0, council agreed.

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher