Thursday, January 10, 2008

Lawyers, Gays, and Money

(…..apologies to Warren Zevon)

One of the problems with downtown Dayton s the fear factor, that people are afraid of downtown and avoid it. If they are forced to come downtown for things like arts events they scurry back to their cars in secure parking lots and garages and get out of Dodge, ASAP.

So who isn't afraid of the city? What economic or demographic groups actually prefer downtown, or are downtown fairly often, and how to build on this?


It seems that the legal profession is still entrenched downtown. Of all the professions lawyers and ancillary services are the most committed to locating downtown. Perhaps this is also the market for daytime dining establishments. The city should encourage the legal profession to continue to locate downtown, and to retain law firms in the center city.

Early career professionals and legal support workers, who most likely are single or married without school age kids, would be the target market for lofts and townhouses close in to the city. This youthful demographic would also be a customer base for downtown nightlife and restaurants open after business hours, leading to a singles/dating "scene".


A touchy subject locally, but this is one demographic category that comes downtown fairly regularly. The gay community in the Dayton region is a classic "community without propinquity", spatially dispersed in where they live, but concentrated in where they socialize, which, in Dayton, remains the gay bar.

All but one of the gay bars are in the city (and the suburban one is reportedly trying to move back to town). Five are in a one block area of downtown. And the GLBT (sounds like a sandwich: Gay Lettuce Bacon and Tomato) community center is apparently trying to locate on that same block.

So gays are not afraid of the city. They come downtown every weekend and on weekdays to socialize. Downtown is already the de-facto "gay neighborhood" of a dispersed community. Why doesn’t the city try to target market to this group more, encouraging gay businesses beyond bars, or even encouraging more gay nightspots? A good example would be the Foundry: Reportedly a trouble spot, perhaps the city could facilitate a deal that would turn this into a gay dance club/show bar, rather than totally shut down the place.

Beyond business, gays would be the obvious target market for downtown living, having lofts, apartments, and townhouses within easy walking distance of the community center and nightclubs. Being mostly childless, the "problem schools" issue wouldn't be deal breaker for choosing to live in the city.


If downtown is to be a residential choice for gays and lawyers, there has to be more housing. And it costs money to either build new or convert old commercial buildings to lofts. Money that seems to be in short supply.

Perhaps what’s needed is a deal fund to provide gap financing. St Louis did this, via a loan pool provided by local banks for conversion projects. Louisville also has a similar deal fund (provided by a quango), but the city also directly intervenes, purchasing and then reselling properties at very cheap prices for redevelopment.

Such a fund could make redevelopment of downtown buildings into residential easier, and perhaps lowering development costs to where rents and sale prices can be lowered, making downtown housing more attractive to younger, early career professionals, or to creative class types who might not have high-paying work.

Target marketing to certain city-friendly groups plus an aggressive development and funding plan for housing could be an innovative, but quite controversial, way to market downtown.

But then, downtown is in as much as a jam as that protagnist in the Warren Zevon song.

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