DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Quintin Sledge and Barney Gorman were having lunch at two of their favorite local restaurants in early December. Gorman dined at Abner’s Restaurant on Third Street in East Dayton, while Sledge was having lunch at Taquiera Mixteca on West Third on the other side of Dayton.
Gorman, who is in his 60s, has lived in Dayton for four years. He’s worked in the Miami Valley since the 1960s driving from Tennessee to paint barns. He became a resident of Dayton four years ago after his son suffered a devastating stroke. His son now resides in a nursing home with a feeding tube while Gorman lives in an apartment.
YEAR IN REVIEW: 2019 was a year of tragedy – and a year of heroes
Sledge, in his 20s, is from south-side Chicago. He’s lived in Dayton for six years and is a dancer for the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company.
Both were among a group of people WDTN.com spoke to about how the city can move forward following a tragic 2019. We talked to local officials and – this is what some of them had to say.
Two perspectives, one answer
Gorman and Sledge said despite the fallout from the Memorial Day tornadoes and the Oregon District shooting, they see a city that’s growing.
“I’ve seen the downtown area change quite a bit,” Sledge said. “The demographics in my apartment have changed. I feel like there’s a lot of young people coming into the city.”
Sledge said when he moved to the city his apartment building was primarily filled with seniors. As he’s spent more time in town, he sees his neighbors getting younger as well as the city.
“I’ve seen 30 to 40 moving vans bringing people into the building,” Sledge said. “It’s almost all people primarily under 40.”
Gorman said despite the tragedies, the city has remained the same and is still on moving onward, especially the economy.
“I didn’t think (2019) was too bad outside the tornado and (the shooting), Gorman said. “I mean things are status quo. People have jobs. Crazy people do stuff like the horrible shooting in Oregon District, but you never know. Life is precarious.
“I know a lot of factories have closed down, but other opportunities have opened. You may not have the job you want but there are plenty of jobs out there.”
Sledge had similar things to say about downtown. He said he didn’t want Dayton to turn into a ghost town, and he said it hasn’t. He’s excited about the Arcade project and the number of restaurants and companies moving downtown. Most importantly, he saw a city unite after facing a rough year.
“As you see with the Dayton Strong movement happening, those things united Dayton,” Sledge said. “Any time you have a major tragic event in such a small area, people will become more polarized or closer-knit. I think the close-knit thing is happening.”
“We still need to do some healing”
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said 2019 was, “The hardest year of my life.”
She said the year was exhausting for her and everyone across the city. She talked about city public works employees and the hours they spent clearing storm debris and the work of first responders when the tornadoes hit, keeping downtown safe during the Klan rally and jumping into action during the Oregon District shooting.
The days after the shooting saw Whaley in the national press, dealing with the aftermath of two major tragedies in her city, as well as going to Columbus and Washington DC to talk to officials about gun control. The year convinced Whaley further that Dayton is at the forefront of what is happening across the country.
“It’s been our way for 100 years,” Whaley said. “Now how do we help other communities, so they don’t have to go through what we have whether it’s extreme weather or mass shooters? We want to be there for other communities, but we want to be there for ourselves.”
Whaley said her top priority in 2020 will be the mental health of those in the city. She said the city is still going through a healing process, and for many, the mental burdens haven’t hit yet.
“Some people probably haven’t begun to process it,” Whaley said. “I think we’ll look at 2020 as a year where we still need to do some healing.”
“It takes baby steps”
As a small business, Stop-N-Save grocery has weathered the ups and downs of Dayton’s economy since 1997.
While the Memorial Day tornadoes and the Oregon District shooting were historic tragedies, Dayton has had record construction in recent years. Downtown has seen new businesses and restaurants and growth is expected to continue into 2020.
Owner Joe Abboud has watched the construction downtown and the increase in the number of restaurants and businesses. While many have hyped Dayton’s economic growth, its yet to have a strong impact on small businesses in parts of downtown, according to Abboud.
“I see a bit of an increase in traffic, but it’s not as big … as many people are talking about,” Abboud said.
Abboud said they believe development on Third Street will bring more business. The family’s 20 years of experience has taught them growth doesn’t happen overnight.
“I see it slowly coming around the corner,” Abboud said. “You see construction work and wonder what will happen when it’s all said and done. I think there’s progress, but it takes time.”
“These are challenging times”
Dr. Rockney Carter is the pastor at Zion Baptist Church on Philadelphia Drive and a member of the Clergy Community Coalition.
The group organized following the closure of Good Samaritan Hospital by Premier Health. Carter said the closing couldn’t come at a worse time, with West Side Dayton a food desert without a major grocery store. This year has been difficult for members of his congregation. Many were directly affected by the tornado outbreak and the shooting.
Carter said for the city to get past 2019 and move into 2020, it means addressing the entire city.
City commissioners have expressed the need for economic growth to not just be downtown but in the East Side and West Side as well because in the past these are areas that have been left out. Carter said this must happen for the city to continue to be a community.
“We have to be able to address the needs of the people across the county or we are setting ourselves up for trouble,” Carter said.
“You can’t take the (oath) to serve the city of Dayton and not zealously fight for one quadrant the way you fight for another. It’s hypocrisy on its face.”
“Part of healing is to focus on the future”
Matt Joseph won his fourth term as a city commissioner in November. Joseph has been on the commission since 2004, and his reason for running again was simple: He wanted a chance to help govern while the city was on the rise.
“Now we can do more than just the basics,” he said.
Joseph has memories from his childhood of visiting the Arcade downtown. He believes the project restoring the building will be healing for the city, not just because of the events of 2019 but from the economic downs the city has suffered.
“Fixing up the Arcade is great in and of itself, but it will help fix the psyche of Dayton,” Joseph said. “But how we are doing it is just as important. We’re partnering with the University of Dayton, we are bringing in folks who will bring in more jobs, and more innovation. We are doing hat in line with Dayton’s past of innovation.”
Joseph said there should be more announcements in 2020 regarding expansion plans by local companies and new companies coming to the city.