Exclusive: From Austin, OK and NYC, they came to 'narrate' the Fire Blocks revival

Last week, the Dayton Business Journal (@dbjnews) presented an article on the FBD (@fireblocksdistrict) Master Plan.

Below is the full article by Tristan Navera. (@TNaveraDBJ)

The hospitality firm creating the restaurants and bars to come to the Fire Blocks district has made its mark across the country. They've picked Dayton for their grand experiment.

In a loft apartment along Fifth Street — in a part of downtown a developer recently termed a "nexus of nowhere" — piles of plans and drawings sit on a table made from a steel plate normally used to cover potholes on the street.

Creative reinvention is a way of life for Taco Pants, the group forming up the food and beverage concepts that will eventually become new restaurants and bars in the $100 million Fire Blocks district.

The group's principals, Jeremie KittredgeDavid Kittredge and Ginger Roddick, have worked together under a creative business called The Idea Collective. Moving to Dayton one year ago, formed an offshoot organization known as Taco Pants, which added the involvement of Chris Dimmick and Winfield Scott Gibson, as well as Fred and Little Bear, the group's portly English bulldogs.

About 36 businesses are expected to occupy the retail space in the ground floors of the half-dozen buildings in the district. Some have been there, such as the soon-to-expand Century Bar, some are moving from out of the area, such as the newly relocated Wells & Co. custom tattoo. But Fire Blocks developer The Ellway Group is looking to Taco Pants to build original, locally focused bars and restaurants for key empty spaces in the district.

'Narrators' of the Fire Blocks

"We're Midwestern by nature," Jeremie Kittredge said. "We see a big opportunity here in Dayton, the same as we did in Tulsa. Why isn't there more attention drawn to cities like here where most people live? Our role here has a lot of creative direction; we're narrators."

Jeremy and David Kittredge spent eight years building concepts in Austin, Los Angeles, and New York separately. They and Roddick joined forces in Tulsa and later Oklahoma City, where the downtowns had been on the verge of revival.

With Taco Pants, the hospitality firm is taking a new, higher equity position in the development it's working, David Kittredge said — oftentimes the group's partners build out an idea for a development and then move on, but with the Fire Blocks, they decided to move to Dayton a year ago to play a direct role in its revival.

Gibson convinced the Idea Collective partners to take a look at Dayton two years ago, and they say they want this to be the place where they open restaurant and bar concepts directly, instead of just envisioning them for other developers and moving on. If that succeeds, there's no reason to think The Idea Collective couldn't take its ideas to other cities in the Great Lakes, David Kittredge said.

The group is eyeing starting up four or five new concepts in the Fire Blocks over the next few years, one at a time. Few details of these are finalized, but they include an elevated Mexican food concept that will feature dishes especially from southern Mexico, which is being planned for the Elks Building. A plan for a new bar in the Price Building's second floor is also in the cards. 

• Related: The team with the $100M plan for the Fire Blocks

Dayton on the precipice

Settling in to Dayton, the Idea Collective partners have a perspective from a lot of other cities in the country. They count about 25 restaurant, creative office and bar concepts in their portfolio, many reconfigured historic spaces.

"This is the first time all three of us have moved to a city after being makers and developers," Roddick said. "(The Idea Collective) will continue to do other projects, but with Taco Pants, we want to dig deep in Dayton and have roots."

Jeremie Kittredge helped launch NYC's City Grit, a restaurant/showroom in an old Catholic schoolhouse in the NoLita neighborhood, as well as the Manhattan Cricket Club, a bar built into an old town house, and a loft headquarters for a creative firm in the Bowery neighborhood. In Tulsa, the partners saw the design and overhaul of a Mexican restaurant, El Guapo's, in the city's south side.

That's the same possibility they see in downtown Dayton, they say, inspired by the brace of buildings in the Fire Blocks District, which have distinct concrete construction, distinct architecture, vaulted ceilings and concrete pillars.

"It already feels so much like home to us," Roddick said. "It happens fast, when a downtown like this redevelops, there is a tipping point when you see people getting interested. Small trends and pockets of development in a core start to converge and builds into something bigger."

Roddick said the developers' plans echo the concept of the "rise of the creative class" — communities look to attract good jobs, but the chefs, artists and creatives can be overlooked, to a fault. Those are the people who produce the amenities that make a city a good place to live, she said.

"When you look at Dayton, maybe it's a few years behind somewhere like Austin, but you can gain ground so quickly," Roddick said. "Every week it seems like someone buys or plans something new downtown."

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