Dayton Comment

 Dayton Comment

Dayton’s Arcade is a building worth saving.

By Jim Bucher

Will Dayton’s Arcade Live or Die?

She’s been a part of the downtown Dayton landscape for over 100 years.

It was, pre-mall, a place to shop for fresh produce, purchase dry goods, sample some tasty eats or just relax under the glass dome. And now, after umpteen re-use proposals, could something finally be happening?

Gosh, let’s flippin’ hope so.

The Arcade, built between 1902 and 1904, was conceived by Eugene J. Barney of the Barney & Smith Car Company. The structure consists of five interconnecting buildings, topped by a glass-domed rotunda. As president of the Arcade Company, Barney made sure the Arcade had the latest innovations, including elevators, a power plant and a cold storage. When this place opened, it was jumpin’.

Then, unfortunately, people and businesses moved to the suburbs. Malls sprung up, and the Arcade became a shadow of its former self. The glass dome was covered up and fell into disrepair until 1980, when millions of dollars were spent rehabbing the structure, and the dome shone bright again.

After a few owners, delinquent back taxes and a host of other issues, the Arcade became a nuisance. As my dad woulda said, “A damn, dirty shame.”

Recently, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley commissioned an Arcade Task Force to study possibilities for the National Historic Landmark.

“If ever there was a structure in Dayton that was sentimental, it is the Arcade,” says the mayor. “It is my hope that we can find a solution to preserve at least a portion of the building’s history without significantly costing city taxpayers an unjustified amount for redevelopment.”

Amen, sister Nan. Amen.

The mayor appointed a couple of good guys that have an awesome track record and “git-er-done” work ethics.

First, Steven Petitjean, senior vice president and market manager for Fifth Third Bank and, most importantly, a person who loves his city.

“Based upon my involvement on various community organization boards and my leadership role in a downtown Dayton business, I was approached by the city of Dayton, and the mayor, to consider co-chairmanship of the Arcade Task Force,” Petitjean says.

Hallelujah, my man, Steven!

The other knight in shining armor is David Bohardt, currently the executive director of St. Vincent de Paul, who brings with him a pretty impressive resume.

“When I learned that an Arcade Task Force was to be appointed, I asked Mayor Whaley to appoint me—and she did. Then, she asked me to serve as co-chair with Steve. I led several major historic preservation projects while CEO of the Home Builders Association and as executive vice president of St. Mary Development. I also served for many years as president of Preservation Dayton, Inc., so I thought I could bring value to the work of the Task Force,” says Bohardt.

Amen, brother David!

If you’ve been on the scene here in Dayton for any length of time, then you probably have a memory or two about the Arcade. Personally, I recall visiting with my aunt as a kid, then later during its 1980 revamp with the lower level food court and Charlie’s Crab. And remember the Coca-Cola Museum?

Mr. Bohardt has a wonderful memory, too.

“My next-door neighbor worked downtown while I was a senior at Chaminade in 1963-1964. He swung by the Arcade every day to pick me up, so I spent a lot of time in the rotunda. It was always alive with vendors, and people, and, of course, dramatic architecture. I ate a lot of popcorn there. The caramel apples weren’t half bad either,” he shares.

It’d be awesome to experience that again, but unfortunately one of the options on the table is demolition.

“The data we are collecting will allow the committee to look at various alternatives. Every alternative will come at a cost, and the committee will give consideration to things such as financing, future ownership, timing, and the plan for long-term sustainability,” says Petitjean.

Currently, the Arcade isn’t in the best of shape.

“Surprisingly, given the abject neglect of the two previous owners, it is not in terrible condition. Lots of water damage and other issues. I have seen a lot worse,” Bohardt says.

“Simply put: It is unloved. Early signs are that the structure, both interior and exterior, are in good fundamental condition,” Petitjean adds.

“Any amount of money could eventually be raised, so long as there is strong community support of a well-articulated, financially sound and realistic long-term plan for use of the space,” Bohardt says.

Praise be!

The Task Force is currently awaiting a structural/engineering analysis of the buildings, submitting recommendations to the mayor by the first of the year. But I believe we’re all in agreement; the Arcade is a rich part of Dayton’s fabric we cannot lose.

“In a perfect world, I would like to see the community come together on a plan for the future of the Arcade and the collection of buildings. The property cannot continue to be ignored,” Petitjean said.

Bottom line, it’s gonna take a lot of money, so …

Hallelujah, praise be, amen and pass the plate. A plate about the size of the Arcade dome.