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Downtown Arcades Struggle To Survive

The word "arcade" might conjure up images of a large, noisy room filled with computer games located inside a mall. But a century ago, arcades were the centers of commerce in Ohio downtown areas. Few of these architectural arcades remain in the Buckeye State, and some of those face an unsure future. There have been other historic properties sold on ebay. Preservation Ohio executive Thomas Palmer is talking about the Dayton arcade. It's for sale on ebay for 4 million dollars. "If it's a way to get attention and a developer, more power to them." Says Palmer.

Built in 1902 and more than 200-thousand square feet in size , the Dayton arcade is listed on Preservation Ohio's most recent list of the state's most endangered historic sites. Palmer says, such properties are a challenge to develop, and the state has lost some of them.

Gene Layton is a partner in the Arcade Company. He estimates they own about 80 to 90 percent of the arcade interior in Newark. After 20 years of ownership, Layton says they decided to sell earlier this year following the death of one of the partners. But he says, the remaining partners want to see what used to be the center of commerce in Newark preserved . "It had hat shops, mens and womens clothing stores, mag stores, cigar shop, had theatres, hotel in there too, apartments" Says Layton

But, memories of days gone by don't pay today's bills. "It doesn't produce much of anything." Says Stephen Fowler, economic development director for the city of Newark.

Fowler says the city would like to see the space preserved and developed and is willing to do what it can to help including tax credits and a 100 percent property tax abatement for 15 years. But the project, he stresses, would be "very expensive." To underscore that point, Fowler leads the way out of his office on the 2nd floor of Newark City Hall and into the Arcade less than 50 feet away. He points to a large exhaust fan near the ceiling. "There's your HVAC for the summer.that's not going to cut it. No disrespect to the owners.this building is a beast.but then you have a really neat space. It repeats all the columns and all the archways with all the lighting on it.

The future of arcades such as the ones in Newark and Dayton is clouded by, among other things, changing consumer preferences in retail shopping. Enclosed shopping spaces in general and malls in particular are falling out of favor. But those wanting to preserve the arcades in Dayton and Newark can find a success story in the state. One of Cleveland's arcades is home to the Hyatt Regency. The hotel says its guest rooms feature "historic vaulted ceilings" and lists the Arcade food court and 1890 the Arcade among its dining sites and Arcade shopping.

Christina Morgan WOSU News