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Dayton Continues to Squabble Over Proposed New City Building

The City of Dayton is need of new accommodations, with a small, cramped city building on Sixth Avenue no longer serving all of the government's needs.

For the past five years, city council meetings have taken place at the Board of Education office so that the old city council space could be used in the city building by daytime staff.

A parcel of land at Sixth and Berry streets has long been targeted as a possible location for the construction of a new city building, and Cincinnati-based design firm KZF Design was tapped to conduct a feasibility study for that location last year.

In recent weeks, however, a second option has emerged as a possible contender.

Where it is, is not yet known publicly, protected from open discussions by state statute that allows governments to negotiate potential real estate transactions.

The two options have left the city council divided on how to proceed, as indicated by a vote at last week's council meeting.

Mayor Ben Baker voted to break a 3-3 tie that would have forbidden any further options, other than 6th and Berry and the mystery site, from being brought forward for consideration.

City administrator Michael Giffen pleaded with council for direction on how to proceed as he prepares the budget for the next fiscal year, which would likely need to include consideration for city building allotments. "I can't put together a reasonable cross-analysis for something else," Giffen said, referencing the second option, which is still apparently in very early discussions. "There are a lot of unknowns."

"I think we need some direction on where this is going. If we're going after a second option, let's pursue a second option."

Council voted unanimously to ask KZF to present at a public meeting on May 21 to discuss its feasibility study. Giffen was also asked to place the report on the city website, where it is now available for public viewing. The report calls for a building of more than 15,000 square feet with two floors, after KZF reps garnered information from city staff.

The city had already acquired properties near the 6th and Berry site, and has torn down buildings to make way for it. The veterans memorial currently on the site would be moved to another nearby space.

Some critics of that proposal have suggested that the city should not take away green space from the central business district and are hoping for a new option.

Councilman Joe Neary raised the issue of the city building last week, saying that there is misinformation being spread among the public, and that he is unsure of what he is allowed to talk about.

"This is the biggest capital project since the flood wall and I think it deserves a long discussion," Neary said.

Other council members are ready to proceed with the 6th and Berry site.

"The numbers you were throwing out to us to consider this place as another option, I feel that would be a total waste of taxpayer money," said Councilman Denny Lynn. He argued that the city already spent $35,000 on the KZF study. "The next report is going to be even more. We own (the 6th and Berry site). It's been sitting there for ten to fifteen years. it's where our city building is supposed to go."

Mayor Ben Baker said that meetings that very day about the proposed second option took place with no cost to taxpayers.

Giffen argued that it would not be fair to KZF to have the firm present its findings when the city is unclear about which direction it's going.

"We need to make up our minds soon," he said. "How much longer are we going to want to fiddle around with option one or option two?"

"I had no idea you were meeting with them," Lynn said to Baker, referencing the second option. "I am not in favor of a second option. There is too much to do."

KZF's report estimates the construction of the new city building to be between $5.5 and nearly $6.8 million.

"Until the day we sit up here to vote to spend $6.7 million, until that day, we should be open to all options," Neary said.

"But at some point you have to make a decision," Giffen said. "We need some direction. How long are we going to fiddle with this? There is a timeline where this is no longer attainable. How long are we going to pursue these mythical options? Is there an option two? Where is this going?"

Things started to turn heated when Councilman Scott Beseler suggested that there would not be funds to pay for the $6.7 million price tag, and Giffen shot back at him.

"We're going to explore option two," Beseler said. "As time moves on, you'll start to see we don't have money (for this)."

"Really?," Giffen responded. "Do you look at the budget every day?"

The city will continue to investigate its options.

"The only thing we're really doing is wasting time of people, and money," Lynn said. 

"If we don't ever do a city building, I need to know so we can do something else to improve the situation (at the current location)," Giffen said.

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher

Photo: Current Dayton city building, seen at night (RCN)