Thursday, May 10, 2012

State of the City Speech - May 10, 2012


It’s good to be here with you tonight at Belmont High School.

This $31.9 million world class facility was dedicated in December 2011 and serves to remind us that the citizens of Dayton value education. In the year since my last State of the City speech, Dayton Public Schools has celebrated the on-time, on-budget completion of its decade-long $627 million construction program to build 26 new schools for Dayton’s students.

I want to thank Belmont administrator David White and Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Lori Ward for hosting us tonight. Thank you both so much for all you do for this community.

I also want to welcome our guests, Montgomery County Commissioners (name those present).

Last year when we all met at the Kroc Center, I laid out five basic facts to describe the state of our city.

They were-- #1 "We are on our own." #2: Dayton must reinvent itself to survive and thrive. #3: If we’re going to get anything done, we need to work together. #4: Dayton is evolving and #5: Dayton will prosper.

So tonight I want to review the events and changes of the last 12 months to chart just how far we’ve come in just one year and why we need to remain confident in our future.

In Dayton, we are still very much on our own. State and Federal funds continue to be cut from our budget, forcing us and cities all across this nation to make sacrifices.

But we have embraced the reality of this situation, and that has led us to prosper even under adverse financial conditions. Even with a severely slashed budget, we have responded with creativity and innovation and not by falling back on harsh service cuts seen in previous times.

Trash still gets picked up. Police officers and firefighters have not been laid off. Festivals and fireworks still go on as scheduled. Because we’re being smarter with our money, we ended 2011 with an unexpected surplus. Believe me, that constitutes bragging rights. We’ve been able to take those extra funds and apply them to our blight removal efforts and technology improvements.

The really great thing about generating our own revenue is that we get to decide how to spend it. The money does not come with strings attached or copious amounts of restrictions on how it can be used. I have often said that we need to find ways to generate our own funds so we are less reliant on monies from the state or federal governments, which have proven to be unreliable in current times.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank and acknowledge Dayton City Manager Tim Riordan for all of his hard work and financial wisdom. Tim, thanks to you and your hard-working staff, for helping lead us back to the road of prosperity.

One year ago I spoke of how we need to reinvent ourselves to survive and thrive. And this is clearly being done. They say that risk is commensurate with reward. Well, we have taken some risks and the rewards have been great. They also didn't cost much money.

The Welcome Dayton plan was formulated at a time when the word “immigrant” was being translated to mean something negative or threatening in many states and regions across this nation. But in Dayton, we saw an opportunity. The citizens of the Dayton region who volunteered to make the Welcome Dayton plan a reality discussed the issue and decided to clearly make it known that Dayton was to be an "immigrant friendly" city.

Last year when we launched this project, we had no idea that those two simple words — Welcome Dayton — would launch us to national and international acclaim. Our Welcome Dayton plan put us on the world’s radar, and we attracted not only news coverage from around the globe but inquiries from foreign citizens requesting more information. I personally received emails and phone calls from citizens in France, South Africa and Nigeria, all interested in relocating to Dayton. So tonight we owe much gratitude to the more than 100 people who helped create this plan. Obviously, we cannot acknowledge everyone individually, but if you were part of the Welcome Dayton Plan committee, would you please rise? Thank you so much for helping make Dayton an example of what being a progressive city is all about.

By adopting this long-term strategy, Dayton will attract more residents and grow its small business base. It’s been proven time and time again that foreign-born nationals demonstrate greater entrepreneurial spirit because they see opportunity that others may not. When a person has the American Dream, they will find a way to succeed. And that American Dream is alive and well in Dayton, Ohio.

I’d like to acknowledge Mr. Islom Shakhbandarov of the Ahiska Turkish Community Center for working with and assisting the more than 300 Ahiska Turkish families that now call Dayton home. Islom, your leadership and love for America is truly inspiring and we could not have done this without you. Thank you.

Someone who really understands the goals of the Welcome Dayton Plan is City Commissioner Matt Joseph. Through his work with Sister Cities International, he has served as one of Dayton’s finest diplomats. Long before this plan was drafted, Commissioner Joseph was following its core principles and making new citizens feel welcome. Commissioner Joseph, thank you for all that you do for this city. It is a pleasure to work with you. Please stand up and be recognized.

Sometimes, in the midst of everyday life, something extraordinary happens. Something that forces us to put aside convention and shine the light of truth upon topics that were once considered too taboo to discuss. Commissioner Joey Williams recently did something remarkable that could be hailed as the best attempt in decades to bring closer our Police Department and the community it serves. He put together a group of diverse, dedicated people—the Community-Police Council that was able to openly discuss perceptions, reality and trust issues related to the working relationship between the police and Dayton’s neighborhoods. With the help of our Human Relations Council these ongoing meetings have led to some of the most positive strides yet made in improving the relationship and understanding between our safety forces and the community.

Also, a warrior in the fight for safe neighborhoods and improved relations between neighborhoods and Police is the legendary Commissioner Dean Lovelace, who for almost two decades has been working tirelessly for the citizens of Dayton.

Tonight, I’d to thank Commissioner Joey Williams and Commissioner Dean Lovelace for working so hard to make Dayton a strong, united city. Gentlemen, please stand up and be recognized.

These two examples demonstrate our willingness to recognize a need in the community and take an active leadership role in fulfilling that need. We are truly blessed to have so many citizens and community leaders committed to finding enterprising ways to facilitate future success for the City.

Commissioner Nan Whaley is one such leader. Commissioner Whaley was part of an independent group that formed very quickly and successfully implemented the concept of a street festival in the Oregon District centered around the NCAA First Four basketball tournament that has been hosted in Dayton for two and will be again in 2013. The one day event, sanctioned by the NCAA and officially named the NCAA First Four Festival will always be known as the "Big Hoopla" to this group of founders. Not only was the event a great success in terms of attendance, it also opened the eyes and minds of many people of influence, to ensure that more events of this nature can be held in Dayton in the future. Commissioner Whaley can't be here tonight but even in her absence, I want to thank her for her outstanding leadership and dedication to this community.

Commissioner Williams and Commissioner Whaley also saw an opportunity to resolve a long-standing issue in the Oregon District and helped bring together the business community and the residential communities in the process. After 18 long years, a solution was formulated in a matter of weeks and the Fifth St. business district is set to thrive and attract even more new businesses in the coming years.

Last year, I made it clear that if we were going to get anything done we needed to put aside political differences and work together. And, I am happy to say, we have done an excellent job at working together for the benefit of our citizens.

Because of this emphasis on teamwork, customer service is continuously improving at City Hall. Our main phone line – 333-4800 – now takes calls for a variety of service needs and has reduced the wait time for citizen calls. Water bills can now be paid online and up-to-date crime statistics can now be viewed by neighborhood at

In the film “Wall Street,” actor Michael Douglas famously said ‘the most valuable commodity I know of is information.’ And we have successfully continued to make information more complete and transparent for our citizens. The City of Dayton Facebook page now has 9,400 “Likes,” compared to just 1,000 in 2010. Many of the local media stations with a broader audience have far less than this, and the local paper has just 4,400 more. The wonderful thing about this brave new world of social networking is that it’s free. 100% free. This gives us the ability to communicate with our citizens instantly and effectively — and at absolutely zero cost to the taxpayer. This allows us to communicate events and public relations information to these citizens the instant the information is released and even several times a day as needed. If you have not yet joined the City of Dayton’s Facebook page or visited the City of Dayton online, I urge you to do so at

Dayton’s progress can also be seen in our recycling efforts. In 2009, the City collected around 170 tons a month of recyclable materials and paid $14 a ton to dispose of them. This time last year we were approaching 400 tons a month. Today we average over 500 tons a month and there is no disposal fee. That means that we are saving $19,000 every month in tipping fees at the landfill.

But now it is time to push a little harder. So, I pose these questions. Working together, why not form a coalition of municipalities and institutions that supplies 3000 tons of recyclables to recycling companies and have them pay us for the materials? Could the revenue generated be used for environmentally friendly economic development incentives instead of tax payer dollars?

For many years, Dayton was not ready for a do-it-yourself culture. But now, we are finding that communities and neighborhoods are embracing this idea, taking more responsibility for the quality of life in their own back yards. Community cleanups are being organized on a scale like we have never seen before. Citizens are learning how to organize these clean ups and how to access free resources to help. They are coordinating efforts with the City so that we can remove collected trash from the curb. People are claiming back their neighborhoods from the neglect of greedy landlords or unresponsive banks or mortgage holders by cutting grass on vacant properties, or devising ways to get it cut if they cannot do it themselves.

The idea of creating residential Special Improvement Districts was presented by my neighborhood association in 2007 and is now being considered in several Dayton neighborhoods as a means to protect those quality of life issues that so many of us see as being important. They are looking into self imposed assessments in order to establish special improvement districts so that neighborhood associations can address blight and improvement plans with the financial resources they need and provided by their very own residents. Mr. William Pace is leading this effort as president of the Mt. Vernon Neighborhood Association and I wish him luck.

In school, we are taught that evolution and change take a long time. However, if some very beneficial trends arise simultaneously, then the process naturally speeds up. Tonight, I can stand here and tell you this — Dayton is evolving, and the process is speeding up.

In addition to neighborhoods stepping up to the plate with self-leadership, we see rapidly growing renewed interest in downtown Dayton as a place for entertainment, as a place to live and as place to do business. A new generation of entrepreneurs and retailers are setting up shop downtown. Events such as the NCAA Tournament and Urban Nights have added to the downtown rebound. And, this September, a major music event, the Downtown Dayton Revival Festival, will bring national headliners — including Dayton’s legendary Guided By Voices — to three stages on our city streets.

Do you want proof that Downtown Dayton is experiencing a serious growth spurt? Look no further than to Mr. Charlie Simms, who is with us tonight. One year ago this suburban developer took a risk on Dayton. He wanted to build 18 townhouses over several years. I asked him how he thought he would do. He replied that he expected to sell three units over the next 12 months and maybe he could get the first eight built. Less than a year later, he has 15 of the 18 units sold and he is almost finished with the entire project.

And there is more of this growth coming. Last year, I asked several of our state legislators to look into why Dayton had no breweries and to question state laws that established prohibitive licensing fees. I must not have been the only person questioning this because the fee was reduced by half and I have been told that there may be as many as five brew pubs opening in the area by early next year. More evidence that the evolution is happening, and that Dayton is running more and more at the speed of business, rather than at the speed of bureaucracy.

Last year at this time, GE Aviation had just broken ground on its $51 million Dayton project, which will create an estimated 200 new jobs – very high quality jobs, by the way. I would encourage all of you to drive by today and see evolution in action, at the corner of Patterson Boulevard and Stewart Street. I hope we will be holding this event in that facility at this time next year.

For further evidence of Dayton’s evolution, consider this — for a few years, Forbes magazine included Dayton in its annual lists of dying or miserable cities. Yet, while three Ohio cities made this year’s Most Miserable Cities list, Dayton was not among them. Now, suddenly, Dayton is considered a “progressive” city, a change we made simply by changing our attitude and approach to business. We were able to break through the belief and barrier that says we need big money from outside in order to generate change.

Now that those outside Dayton increasingly view the city as being “progressive,” we are attracting even more attention. Press Coffee, a locally owned café on Wayne Avenue, was named by Zagat as one of the 10 Coolest Independent Coffee Shops In America. Local business owner Hilary Browning of Thistle Confections is attracting national praise for her handcrafted baked goods that she sells at downtown’s 2nd Street Market and via mail to customers throughout the country. This is grassroots, small business evolution in action.

Let's also consider all the new businesses that have opened within the last year — in the Oregon District, we have Basho Apparel, Lucky’s Tavern and Roost Italian restaurant. Planet Smoothie, Fusian Sushi, and J. Gumbo’s along the Brown Street business corridor. Rene’s Gourmet Creations, and the new Hospice center in the Wright-Dunbar neighborhood. There are many more throughout the city and the Belmont Business District just up the street is beginning to experience a new evolution.

The vast majority of new jobs are now created by small businesses and these are but a few examples that prove that Dayton’s economy is indeed on the move. We need to continue to market ourselves in a positive way and we need our citizens to realize that there is more good happening here than bad. We have now evolved into a city where people now tell me that there is too much to do in Dayton — talk about a great problem to have.

The City of Dayton is working hard to set the stage for those who are choosing to live, play and work in the center city. We have dedicated millions of dollars to street resurfacing this year and to aggressively seek funding from outside sources for major infrastructure needs. By the end of this year we will see major improvements to a number of our major thoroughfares. Already Brown Street, Patterson Blvd. and the Great Miami Blvd. are lined with orange barrels and construction equipment. These enhancements will create the welcoming environment for business and neighborhood growth.

This year, I appreciate the media more than I have in the past, because it seems they are evolving too. Channel 2 hosts the mid-day show “Living Dayton,” which puts a positive spin on the things happening around us. The Dayton Daily News has experienced a change in staff and thus a change in style that places accuracy before opinion and loyalties, and I know that many as well as myself really appreciate the change. With the media working with us and not at us, we can continue evolving into the world class city that we becoming at an even faster rate. Instead of being a bad city where some good things happen, the reality is we are a GREAT CITY where, just like anywhere else, some bad stuff occurs. If everyone starts to accept this we will evolve much faster and attract more businesses, jobs, people and excitement.

How we all market ourselves, the city and this region is important because it will determine the end result. There is a saying in sales that I heard 20 years ago—“If you think you can, you will. If you think you can't, you're right.”

But let me be clear on one thing — I get just as frustrated as all of you at how slow progress and change can be. I am not going to stand here and paint you a picture of Dayton that is all sunshine and roses. It’s not. I don’t like it any more than you that we can’t run out and knock down every single vacant, burnt-out house in our neighborhoods. I have two derelict houses behind my home and one burned out across the street that even I can’t get torn down. I don’t like it that there are citizens in this city who still cannot find a good paying job. But the thing we all have to remember is that real, lasting change takes time.

Most economists predict it’s going to take at least five to ten years for our nation’s employment to return to the level it was at before the Great Recession. But after decades of decline, Dayton is on the rebound. Believe it. We are moving forward. Things are happening. We just need to maintain our present course — because it’s working. We need to make sure our economic base is fertile enough for businesses to grow and expand by not bogging them down with red tape. We need to work together to ensure our neighborhoods are safe and clean by recommitting ourselves to block watch programs and cleanups. And you, the citizens, need to understand that Dayton is your city. We don’t run it — you do.

We work hard every day to provide you with Police and Fire services and streets to drive on, but it’s largely up to you to take it from there.

I recently opened my dictionary and looked up the word ‘prosperity.’ The word is defined as “Prosperous state or condition; successful progress; success.” Let me say this. If we take the five facts that I laid out last year and we 1) accept that we have to take care of ourselves without relying on outside influences that we have no control over, 2)Continue to reinvent ourselves and never stop doing it, 3) Work together for common goals and not at each other just to see the other side fail, 4) take advantage of those traits that will speed up progress and not dwell on those that will not, and 5) believe that success will breed more success.

Charlie Simms is prospering, so what does he want to do? Prosper some more and contribute to the greater success of Dayton. That will inspire others to do the same. Tomorrow is Urban Nights. If you have never been, you need to. If you are afraid of Downtown, don't be. Not tomorrow. Go and see what a vibrant successful city looks like and tell me afterwards that you would never want to see that every week.

If we continue to push forward and continue to create activity, then the success and prosperity will be the natural result of hard work. Always remember, no one ever wants to ride the coattails of failure and we saw too much of this in the past. Moving forward will certainly be interesting, because people come from far and wide to share in the good times when success has been achieved.

Ladies and gentlemen, the success of Dayton depends on you. You are the true leaders of this community. You are the workers who drive this economy. You are the ones who hold the true power to determine if Dayton sinks or swims. I believe in this city. And I believe in you. And I believe that we are making great strides in returning Dayton to her former splendor as one of America’s most innovative cities. Tonight, let us pledge to continue to work together as we continue to move our city forward.

Thank you and God bless.

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