Levitt Pavilion Dayton Set to Open in 2018
Dayton, Ohio is a city of innovators, inventors and dreamers. As home to numerous patents and inventions, the spirit of innovation permeates its entire culture. This is evident throughout the city, including in the ongoing reimagining of its downtown. Levitt Pavilion Dayton, located in Dave Hall Plaza—an underutilized public space sitting at the southern gateway to the city’s downtown—is set to play a major role in the revitalization of Dayton’s core and make it a welcoming destination for all.
A philosophy of inclusivity
Throughout its history, Dayton has made a name for itself as a hub of innovation, with inventions including the airplane and the self-starting automobile engine coming out of this Midwestern city. It also boasts a philosophy of inclusiveness, priding itself on welcoming everyone to make Dayton their home. Embodying these ideals, the city’s residents recognized the value of establishing a permanent outdoor Levitt music venue that would serve as an anchor for community life in the heart of downtown by offering an annual series of 50 free concerts, featuring high caliber entertainment of an array of music genres, accessible to Daytonians of all backgrounds.
“The Levitt Pavilion here in Dayton will be a living room for our city—a safe, family-friendly environment in our urban core where everyone will be invited to enjoy the free concerts and celebrate the diversity of our community,” said April Mescher, the project’s director who serves as a liaison between the City, the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation, and Friends of Levitt Pavilion Dayton. “This renewed green space will also be ideal for a picnic, stroll or relaxing outdoors right in our city center.”
In early 2014, the Dayton community reached out to the national Levitt Foundation to explore the possibility of developing a Levitt venue in their city. A small group of Daytonians made an exploratory visit to Levitt Pavilion SteelStacks in Bethlehem, Penn.—a community that shares Dayton’s history as a manufacturing town hit hard by economic shifts. The visit convinced the group that a Levitt Pavilion would be the perfect vehicle for Dayton to come together as a community and help further a renaissance in the city, as it did in Bethlehem.
The group then spoke to the City of Dayton, and city leadership including Mayor Nan Whaley arranged for a visit to the Levitt Shell in Memphis for further exploration. Convinced as well that a Levitt venue would be ideal for the city, they invited Levitt Foundation Executive Director Sharon Yazowski to visit Dayton. It soon became clear to the Foundation that Dayton was an excellent community for a permanent Levitt venue.
“Dayton’s commitment to being a welcoming city and philosophy of inclusivity for its downtown redevelopment makes Dayton an ideal match for the Levitt program,” said Yazowski. “In addition to its significant role in downtown revitalization efforts, the Levitt Pavilion in Dave Hall Plaza will bring together the diverse communities that call Dayton home, creating a vibrant destination where people of all backgrounds will have the joyful, shared experience of free, live music.”
The “gift that keeps on giving”
To date, Friends of Levitt Pavilion Dayton—the local nonprofit that will manage, program and fundraise annually to support the new Levitt venue—has raised $4.3 million of its $5 million capital campaign goal, and expects to reach completion by early 2017. The City of Dayton contributed $1 million to the project and the Levitt Foundation contributed $500,000. Additional support has come from local foundations, businesses, individuals, and institutions.
CareSource, one of the largest managed healthcare companies in the U.S. with headquarters in Dayton, saw the value in supporting Levitt Pavilion Dayton, and its philanthropic arm, the CareSource Foundation, gave a grant of $750,000—the largest in its history—to support the project.
“The Levitt concept provides the chance for people of all economic backgrounds to join together for a break from the pressures of life,” said CareSource Foundation Vice President Cathy Ponitz. “Even with many in the traditional workforce, living a paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle is the norm. Often what gets lost is the opportunity to have fun. We believe, especially for the demographic of our consumers, this will be a gift that definitely keeps giving.”
“The level of support and commitment from the region has been overwhelming,” said Mayor Whaley of the Levitt project. “Over the past several years, Dayton revitalization efforts have gained momentum, with the City and our partners working hard to reenergize and renew interest in the city’s offerings…the Levitt Pavilion will give citizens a reason to check out what is going on in the center of their community.”
A boon to business
According to city officials, the Levitt Pavilion will play a vital role in The Nine redevelopment strategy, which repositions a once challenged and dormant nine-block area as a lively neighborhood centered around Dave Hall Plaza as a central park. The reimagined area is being designed to include offerings for all Daytonians from throughout the region, providing a range of dining and entertainment options, including the free Levitt concerts.
Local businesses have also been very keen to support the project. “We concluded that the Levitt Pavilion would serve to create an enhancement sorely needed in that area…and create more of a community asset for those living in and near downtown,” said Nick Keyes, president of family-owned Dayton billboard company Key-Ads, whose company donated $100,000 of in-kind advertising and promised to provide additional support for the first 10 years the venue is in operation.
Indeed, the plans for the future Levitt venue have already inspired local businesses to establish a greater presence in the downtown core, recognizing that the free Levitt performances will likely attract tens of thousands of people each summer, creating a valuable source of foot traffic to help their businesses thrive.
Building community through the arts
As the arts are a key strategy in Dayton’s downtown revitalization, the Levitt Pavilion will complement the city’s other venues, including the RiverScape Pavilion, the Schuster Performing Arts Center, and the Victoria Theatre, offering programming and a range of artists not typically presented at these venues. In addition, the Levitt Pavilion will be a place where arts organizations and performance groups across the Dayton region will showcase their programming and activities. Beyond the free Levitt concert series, the venue will be available for use by schools, community organizations, and other nonprofits.
The Levitt project also shares close connections with the University of Dayton and Sinclair Community College, which formed solid partnerships with Friends of Levitt to help guide community engagement efforts, ensuring the Levitt Pavilion will involve and serve a wide and diverse group of individuals including students as well as military personnel and families from the nearby Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
“I became involved with the project because a Levitt Pavilion is more than a music venue, and it is a proven model. Dayton needs free music, community building and economic revitalization. Levitt offers all three,” said Jeff Ireland, Board Chair of Friends of Levitt Pavilion Dayton. “There are good things happening in Dayton and Levitt builds on them in a positive way. And each of the pavilions is unique, so we can put our own spin on the one here in Dayton.”
Cleveland-based design firm, Westlake Reed Leskosky, is working to ensure that Levitt Pavilion Dayton will reflect the downtown’s historic aesthetics while celebrating the city’s innovative spirit. Upon completion, the Levitt Pavilion Dayton state-of-the-art amphitheater will accommodate up to 5,000 concertgoers in an open lawn setting, joining a growing national network of permanent outdoor Levitt music venues in Arlington, Texas; Bethlehem, Penn.; Denver, Colo. (opening in 2017); Houston (opening in 2019); Los Angeles; Memphis; Pasadena, Calif.; Sioux Falls, S.D. (2019); and Westport, Conn.
Construction of Levitt Pavilion Dayton is slated to break ground spring of 2017. With its first annual season of free concerts beginning in 2018, the Levitt Pavilion in Dave Hall Plaza is poised to become a gem of the Gem City, a thriving destination where Daytonians of all backgrounds will come together and celebrate community through the power of free, live music.