Friday, January 16, 2009

Downtown South of Third: Economic Death of Prewar Skyscrapers

Downtown Dayton is pretty big. Probably bigger than it needs to be given how the economy has shrunk and population has stagnated and things moved out to suburbia.

The part of downtown South of Third Street has long been problematic. This was the case as early as the 1960s, when four entire blocks where demolished for a failed urban renewal project. It would be interesting to count how much shop frontage and floor space was taken out of the inventory by that intervention.

There've been on-and-off removals and demolitions beside the aborted Mid Town Mart project, but perhaps the big way space has been removed from the inventory was be simple vacancy. Vacany that in some cases leaves entire buildings shuttered. The best known example is the Arcade. But there are other ways space is removed from the market.

Lets look at this collection of prewar skyscrapers. Downtown south of Third has six prewar skyscrapers. One, the American Building (orginally the Conover Building) is one of the oldest in the city.

The graphs track building occupants, or establishments, as listed in the city directories, at five year intervals starting in 1965. 1965 might be a bit late for a starting point as suburban office development started in 1960 (including Dayton's first office park just south of Hills and Dales). To some degree this suburban development was a response to the poor condition of downtown office space . A city planning report indicates there was deferred investment in downtown space, so customers were looking for more modern product.

The American building eventually became mostly vacant before finally being taken over by RTA.
25 South Main was also called the Lindsey Building. This sliver building recieved a new elevator system in 1965, and maintained what looks like stable occupancy through 1970. During the early 1970s occupancy drastically dropped and the building was shut down at the end of 1965 (except for the ground floor retail, which continued to the mid 1980s).

The original name of Center City Offices was the United Brethren Building (renamed the Knott Building by the 1960s), and it was the HQ of that denomination (offices in the tower part). The UBs mergerd with the Methodists and left Dayton, and their building. The Knott Building was renamed Center City Offices in the 1970s. Occupancy declined after the 1970s

The Reibold Building was similar to Center City Offices as the big tenant left in the 1960s. This would be the Elder-Johnson department store, anchoring the southern stretch of Main Street. Elder-Johnson was taken over by Beerman, and this location was closed, leaving a big six-floor hole in the building. This leasing hole started to be plugged in the 1970s by county offices, and sometime in 1980 the entire building was converted into county offices.

Incidentally Center City Offices, kittycorner across Main, was also a government office building, of sorts, but never officially so and always had a mix of private sector things, too. Conversion to government use was one way to take space off the downtown real estate market (most recently via the Reynolds & Reynolds/School Board sale).

This pix from the Lutzenberger Collection must be older as I think this building was added to? Fidelity was a very densly occupied building, seeing a stairstep drop in occupancy through the 1970s and 1980s before sort of stablizing in the 1990s and 2000s.

The Commercial Building appears to be somewhat weak even in the 1960s, but it shared the fate of the Arcade, being closed when the Arcade went under renovation and never reopened.

Economic Death and Zombie Skyscrapers.

One can see that occupancy pretty much collapsed in the 1970s, with a slower downslope in the 1980s, before somewhat stablizing in the 1990s and 2000s (it would be interesting to do a 2008 or 2009 look to see if the downward trend is continuing, be it ever so slight).

After a certain point these buildings lose their economic viablity and are closed, as with 25 S Main and the Commercial Building. In two cases, the Riebold and American buildings the structures become zombie skyscrapers in that they are not really economically alive, in that they are not in the real estate market housing for-profit enterprise. But they are populated to some degree by government offices, courts, non-profits, etc. The big example here is the Reibold Buidling, but also the American Building and, for awhile, Center City Offices.

Next, adding the two postwar skyscrapers to the mix, and a look at type of occupants, to see who was and is leasing high rise space south of Third.


Anonymous said...

Hey, couldn't find a place to actually e-mail.

I really like what your doing here, glad there's people out there showing support for our town out there! :)

Jefferey said...

For some more supportive online presence check out some of the links in the blogroll, especially the Dayton MostMetro Forum (DMM Forum) for some Dayton-centric urban affairs discussion.

Also worth looking at is Great In Dayton, Esrati, Documenting Dayton, and For the Love of Dayton.

SimpleTwig Architecture said...

Very interesting. Once you lose some people a city loses its retail viability, especially if the CBD relies heavily on commercial space without integrating residential, a thing that downtown NYC now encourages to keep this part of the city alive 24/7. I remember downtown Dayton in the '60's when my mother took me downtown to see my father who worked in a tailor shop, who later founded Buccalo Catering which was located at the fairgrounds, so I also saw NCR factories close, and the blight of open parking lots dotted around the city. The walk my mother took me on inspired me to become an Architect, because Dayton was bustling with people and with buildings. It was exciting, but over the years working at the fairground I could see the destruction of the 'urban renewal' and its impact on the vitality of the city. The idea that 'leaders' could allow this to happen, and later learning that my architecture professors had to fight to save the Montgomery County Courthouse from the wrecking ball, I knew that for me to practice architecture I would have to move to a place where they appreciated it more, and so I live and work in NYC being in practice for 25 years now. Fortunately Dayton has put a stop to that insanity and we now live in a better time where people can appreciate both the new and the old, despite many of the citizens still live in the 19th century and have never considered buying tickets for a show, or visit the Dayton Art Museum because of their unfounded fears. I wish the city well and hope it can once again be whole again.