Downtown Dayton residents share their stories on why they moved downtown and why they love it!
Housing developments in downtown Dayton have never been more popular. It seems as soon as a new project is finished, another one is announced. Who’s buying or renting these spaces and what motivates them to seek this kind of city-centric lifestyle? The Downtown Dayton Partnership showcases three families who’ve made the move. Get a glimpse into the lives of people who live downtown—and a sneak peek into some of the residential complexes featured on the Downtown Housing Tour from 1-5 p.m. September 19.
Kelly, Mike, and Noah Romano, Patterson Place
When Kelly and Mike Romano began shopping for a new home, they didn’t set out looking for a new-build property. “(Mike) likes the really urban looks and historic homes, I wanted something simple,” Kelly said. When they stepped into a model of Patterson Place, it seemed as though everyone would win with this home. The Charles Simms Development units combine such “urban” aesthetic as lofted ceilings and exposed brick with minimalist, clean design. The Romanos fell in love with the space, but there were still potential road blocks the Vandalia family had to confront.
The couple’s 14-year-old son, Noah, had grown up in the Vandalia-Butler school system and wasn’t keen on starting fresh at a different school. Encouraged by a family friend whose child attended Dayton Public Schools, Kelly and Noah made a trip to Stivers School for the Arts, located less than a mile and a half from the potential new downtown home. “The school was smaller for sure,” Kelly said. “There are about 900 kids in the whole school (grades 7 through 12) versus about 300 students per class at Vandalia-Butler.” The benefits of a smaller school became apparent when Kelly and Noah visited the recording studio. “There was a group of students who showed (Noah) around the studio and really started talking to him, getting to know him,” Kelly recalled. “It was a defining moment, I think.”
Noah agreed and went on to describe how Stivers’ school pride impressed him. “The school had a gift shop; that was pretty different,” he said. One hurdle down: Noah auditioned and was accepted to Stivers’ choral program. He began his freshman year in August.
Finite space is another hallmark of city life. There’s not much room for sprawling McMansions in an urban environment, which is why many lofts, townhomes and condos employ a creative use of vertical space. Still, the Romanos had some downsizing to do before they could call their new urban digs home. “It’s definitely smaller than I’m used to,” Noah said. “But there are so many other things that are closer and easy to walk to bike to.” It’s true that what the Romanos sacrificed in square footage for their home, they gained in access to amenities. No space for a six-burner-stove and island prep in the kitchen? No problem—there are seven places to grab a bite to eat that are two blocks away or closer (hundreds more within walking and biking distance). Running out of room for guests at a party? Spill out into the parking lot instead. The Romanos can attest to the friendly atmosphere of their cozy dwellings. “We didn’t interact with our neighbors much (in Vandalia),” Mike said. “Here, you’re so close, it’s hard not to interact with your neighbors. It’s not uncommon to see several get-togethers blend into one big gathering (along the ground-level spaces, patios and access drive).
“(Living downtown) feels like an on-going party that doesn’t stop!” he said.
Beyond folding them into their social circles, the Romanos said their new neighbors made them feel part of the community. “Everyone’s been so supportive of us,” Kelly said. “They ask about Noah and school. He even picked up some odd jobs for our neighbors like watering plants and walking dogs.”
Downtown’s communal atmosphere is not all the Romanos love about their new home. “We definitely walk more than we used to,” Kelly said. “We’re members of the Dayton Racquet Club and we can walk to the gym. It’s an easy walk to stores and restaurants on St. Clair or the Oregon District. We just got our Link (Dayton Bike Share) passes and we can get from place to place quickly.” Noah chimed in that he can walk to his karate lessons in the Oregon District. The 2nd Street Market, RiverScape MetroPark, and Fifth Third Field were other walkable destinations the family named among their most frequented places. “When we first moved here, our neighbors told us we couldn’t leave when there are festivals,” Kelly said. Mike agreed; “It’s so easy when they’re practically in your backyard! We go to practically every festival and every event downtown.”
The slower pace of walking and biking also presents new things to discover. “You find things you never knew existed,” Mike said. “We found Urban Krag (Climbing Center in the Oregon District) that way.” Kelly echoed that sentiment and added her affinity for the shops in the St. Clair Lofts—Salon J Ladner, Pi Style Boutique, Linwood Men’s Specialty Shoppe, and Twist Cupcakery. Several blocks away at the Cannery Building, Kelly and Mike said they discovered Sherwood Florist and The Black Box Improv Theater, where they have returned many times for performances.
Now the Romanos are sharing their downtown love with friends and family. “People were surprised when we moved here,” Mike said. Kelly agreed, and added that they are happy to share their positive experiences with visitors. “We had some friends who we took to the Dayton Racquet Club, and they joined,” she said. “I think the common reaction is downtown is cooler than they expected. It was even cooler than we expected when we moved here!”
Amy and Kevin Rehfus, The Landing
Having just moved to their new digs at The Landing in June, the Rehfuses are still pretty fresh to downtown, but they’re acclimating rather quickly, particularly to their new-found free time. The couple moved from a home approximately 3,300 square feet with a huge, rolling lawn down to about 1,500 square feet with a deck and patio. Amy and Kevin found the process to be quite liberating. “(Moving from the suburbs to downtown) was freeing, if anything,” Kevin said. Amy agreed: “(At the old house) we were constantly working on the lawn and maintaining the house. We don’t miss that at all! It frees up your time so you can actually do more.”
Originally from North Canton, Amy and Kevin said they always lived in the suburbs, and the transition from their home of five years in Troy to The Landing downtown was big, but nevertheless a change they made with a clear vision for the type of lifestyle they craved. “We had to think what we wanted out of a home and community,” Amy said. The couple wanted to live somewhere affordable where they could be less dependent on a vehicle, and they wanted nearby amenities that would complement reduce car-reliance. “Dayton checked off all the items on our list,” Amy recalled. “We were surprised!”
Even though their new apartment home is physically smaller than their suburban digs, they said they don’t feel cramped or that they lack space. “There are so many places to visit and they’re practically in our back yard,” Kevin said. Giving one particular weekend as an example, the couple recounted attending a Big Band Nights concert at RiverScape MetroPark on Thursday, The Square Is Where Goes Over the Edge Drop Party on Courthouse Square Friday, then on Saturday, they hopped on the bike path that runs behind their apartment building and rode to Tank’s and Carillon Park, and topped that all off with a walk back to RiverScape for the Hispanic Heritage Festival. “You don’t feel like you’re exercising when you’re just traveling from place to place,” Amy said.
From the Rehfuses’ home, perched on the banks of the Great Miami River, they will have front-row seats to watch more active lifestyle amenities come online. Construction has started on the new RiverScape River Run project, which will stabilize the banks of the river and enhance habitat. Flow control structures also will be installed, mimicking the natural flow of a healthy river. The structures will create two passageways for kayaks, canoes and other paddle sports. One will be a slow-moving channel for novice and leisure paddle sport enthusiasts, and the other will be faster for more experienced kayakers, who will be able to use the channel for dips, flips and other tricks. The removal of the dangerous low dam will create a 7-mile river trail where paddlers can put in at Eastwood MetroPark and float all the way down to Carillon Park. Construction is expected to take a year to complete.
Alongside the river, a new mural is being painted on the floodwall, adding beauty and visual interest to the cityscape. K12 Gallery, another downtown business, has been contracted to apply the design created by local artist Amy Deal.
Being so close to so many amenities and events has provided the couple with more activities than they could possibly entertain. “We’ve been so busy, we haven’t taken a vacation or even bothered to hook up the cable yet!” Kevin mused.
The abundance of action wasn’t the only surprise downtown Dayton had in store for the Rehfuses. “We didn’t think we would experience a lot of nature (being in an urban environment), but we encounter a ton of birds and squirrels and rabbits,” Amy said. Downtown’s less furry denizens got a nod, as well. “You know, sometimes you hear about city life and how people living there are more stoic and cold,” she said. “I was surprised at just how friendly people are who live downtown!”
Local shops and restaurants rounded out the Rehfuses’ list of aspects of downtown life they love. Whether it’s walking to dinner, riding their bikes along the largest bikeway network in the country, taking in the sights and sounds of cultural festivals, or any other downtown activity, Amy said the transition has been rewarding: “Our lives have completely changed — for the better!”
April Alford, St. Clair Lofts
April Alford came to Dayton by way of New Jersey. She was working for the U.S. Postal Service when the opportunity to transfer to a higher position came up. “I applied to lots of locations, and Dayton was the first to respond,” she said. Alford moved to Dayton and took up residence initially in Shroyer Park. But when she checked out the St. Clair Lofts during an open house, it was love at first sight. “I worked downtown and I had a friend who lived in the lofts,” she said. “I thought the space was great and it put me right in the middle of arts, culture, events, food – all within walking distance of my home and work.”
Now a downtown resident for four years, Alford said she was initially surprised at how outgoing people are. “In New Jersey, people are busy, and you don’t see your neighbors a lot or really talk to each other. Moving to Dayton, I noticed people are more friendly, especially downtown,” she said.
Alford still works downtown at the Board of Elections. When she’s not at work or hanging out in her funky urban loft, Alford enjoys all the amenities downtown has to offer. “You can find me at The Neon (movie theater), Oregon Express, and probably the Schuster (Center) or Victoria Theatre,” she said. “I love plays; each year I make sure I get my Passport to the Arts from Culture Works so I can get great deals on attending performing arts events!”
She also spends her down-time volunteering with another group close to her heart – Activated Spaces. Since 2011, the program has been filling formerly vacant street-level storefronts with art and Pop-Up Shops. The latest iteration of Activated Spaces introduced the Pop-Up Office concept. Activated Spaces is managed by the Downtown Dayton Partnership and run by a team of volunteers, mostly from the UpDayton, a nonprofit focused on attracting and retaining young talent through civic engagement and volunteer initiatives, and the Dayton Chamber of Commerce’s young professional organization Generation Dayton. “I started out as a volunteer with UpDayton and from there got into (Activated Spaces),” Alford said. “I love that I get to play such a direct role in making the city where I live a better place.”
Activated Spaces’ most recent Pop-Up Shops are two eatery concepts, frozen banana dessert scoop shop Fronana, and Twist Cupcakery, a café and full-service bakery that happens to be located in the first-floor of the St. Clair Lofts. The bakery joins another Pop-Up Shop alumna, Pi Style Boutique, and three other businesses, Anthony James Painting and Contracting, J Ladner Salon & Spa and Linwood Men’s Specialty Shoppe. Alford said she loves having shopping; hair, nail and spa services, and a lunch or dessert spot steps from her loft. But really, she’s invested her time in the program to encourage Dayton’s small business scene. “These are people with dreams of opening a shop, and those dreams are in our hands,” she said. “It’s important for me to volunteer because I can make an impact for the city and help (entrepreneurs) achieve their dreams.”
Alford invites anyone considering making a switch to living downtown to at least check out a space. “I love living here; it’s the complete package,” she said. “If you’re into the arts and culture, good food, exciting nightlife, and friendly people, come downtown!”
The Downtown Housing Tour takes place from 1-5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 19. Start at any location, or at an info table. There will be an info table stationed on Don Crawford Plaza (Fifth Third Field) at Patterson Boulevard and Monument Avenue; at Monument Avenue and Wilkinson/Perry streets; and in the Oregon District at Fifth and Brown streets. See as many locations as desired. Walk or bike from spot to spot, or use the free hop-on, hop-off shuttle. More information is available at http://bit.ly/housingtour.