A Strategic Overview for City Revitalization: Fairborn, Ohio

Like many American cities that experienced significant growth for several decades after World War II, Fairborn, Ohio, (population 33,000, located in the western part of the state, near Dayton) found itself beginning to stagnate in the mid-1970s. Completion of Interstate Highway 675 — which bypassed the city — deterred traffic and new customers for local businesses. Meanwhile, the adjoining town of Beavercreek (located closer to a highway interchange) grew, with newer housing, schools and shopping centers. Fairborn city officials engaged the CRE Consulting Corps to create a revitalization strategy.The Challenge

City leaders had already identified a number of sites for potential redevelopment but agreed they needed a fresh perspective. The Fairborn assignment began as a request to analyze and make recommendations for redevelopment of one property — the Skyway Retail Center — a functionally obsolete and largely deserted shopping/office development. The project changed dramatically, however, once the team was onsite in Fairborn and met with stakeholders, and team members were able to view the property and the city.

The Team

The team, lead by CRE David McCoy (Hawaii), included:

Swain Chapman, CRE (Arizona),David Lane, CRE (British Columbia, Canada),Demetrios Louziotis, CRE (New Jersey),and Thomas Shircliff, CRE (North Carolina).

The five-day assignment began with a city tour, orientation and data collection. Interviews with city elected officials, staff and community stakeholders assisted in completing the situation analysis, followed by two days of deliberation and analysis to determine findings and recommendations.

The Assessment

The Skyway Retail Center redevelopment was the original focus of the Corps’ assignment

The team reviewed market data and conducted interviews with 20 government, business and community leaders. A SWOT analysis revealed Fairborn’s strengths, including excellent medical services, proximity to Wright Patterson Air Force Base (largest employer in the state), the Air Force Museum, and Wright State University which has a student enrollment of 19,000. The city is also pro-growth, progressive and business-friendly. Downtown businesses, an eclectic mix of retail and service providers, are located in historic buildings, and new streetscaping is in place. Fairborn’s parks are numerous and large. However, lack of investment and economic development over the past several decades was a decided weakness, and lack of convenient public transit limits how easily people from the Air Force base, museum or University can access the businesses and recreational attractions Fairborn offers. Ultimately, the scope of the project was expanded to include downtown Fairborn and an area adjacent to Wright State University.

The Recommendations

The team determined short-term and longer-term goals for the city. Rather than focus solely on the Skyway Retail Center, immediate action steps also addressed Fairborn’s central business district, including strengthening its downtown business association and focusing resources on promoting the history of Fairborn and its unique shops and businesses.

Downtown Fairborn: unique businesses in a historic setting

The team’s strategy also emphasized creating a “destination” in the CBD, which already is home to a new business incubator. They advised active partnering with the Air Force base and Wright State University, creating activity-based entertainment venues and establishing a motorized trolley to enhance access to downtown. As for the Skyway Retail Center: the team believed a Citizen Services, Health and Wellness Center would be a successful development and convenient concentration of service businesses.

Longer term, the team prioritized redevelopment of several other targeted sites, and made recommendations for each, identifying commercial and residential opportunities, including mixed-use, hospitality, retail, and student housing.

The Outcome

After the departure of the CRE Consulting Corps team, a final written report was provided. The Consulting Corps looked back, and with the assistance of Rob Anderson, the City Manager, presented the case and an update with CRE members during the NAR meetings in November 2017.

Fairborn hired a downtown revitalization strategist to implement Consulting Corps recommendations. The city invested over $2 million to remove blighted property. They purchased a vacant restaurant and renovated for a new kitchen incubator, substantially reducing downtown vacancy. The city also purchased a former retail center site.

Fairborn began an aggressive branding and marketing campaign along with expanded events programming. In August 2017, Fairborn hosted its first Bluegrass & Brew event, bringing thousands to its downtown. •

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