It’s never a good sign when the cab driver doesn’t know where you want them to go. But that’s exactly what happened in 1998 when Robert Murphy, president and general manager of the Dayton Dragons, and Eric Deutsch, executive vice president of the Dragons, asked a cab driver at Dayton International Airport to take them to 500 E. First St. in Dayton. “He had to call and ask for directions,” says Deutsch.

Now, few have to ask for directions to 500 E. First St., which is across the street from Fifth Third Field, home of the Dayton Dragons. That’s because the Dragons, the Class A baseball affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, have brought hundreds of thousands of people to Fifth Third Field by selling out every game at the 7,230-seat stadium since they began play in 2000. 

And that familiarity with the location of Fifth Third Field is helping nearby businesses that were around before the stadium was built as well as drawing new businesses to the area.

Alan Pippenger, president of The Requarth Co., located directly across Monument Street from Fifth Third Field, says the stadium is great at helping customers find its lumber and building materials business. The Requarth Co. has been at its current location since 1895, and the company opened a new kitchen and bath showroom at the business in 2012. 

“It’s so easy now to get people here just by telling them we’re adjacent to Fifth Third Field and we’re right behind the Dragons scoreboard,” says Pippenger. “Nine out of 10 times people say, ‘I know right where you are. I’ve seen your building because I’ve been to a Dragons game.’”

While the stadium is great for helping customers find The Requarth Co. building the players aren’t as friendly to The Requarth Co.’s windows. Pippenger has lost count of how many windows have been broken by baseballs that were launched over the outfield wall by players.

“We wait for the [baseball] season to end and then we’ll go up and put some new panes of glass in the broken windows,” says Pippenger. “The Dragons did offer to cover the cost of the windows, but we told them that was all right. We like having them across the street. They’re great neighbors.”

And the Dragons are starting to get even more neighbors. The Water Street District, a mixed-use development consisting of an office building, an apartment and townhome building, and a 429-space parking garage, is being developed by Crawford Hoying Development and Woodyard Development a block west of Fifth Third Field.

PNC Bank is anchoring the office building with offices on the top two floors and a PNC Bank branch on the ground floor. Also on the ground floor of the office building will be a Snap Fitness facility and a restaurant by the owners of Basil’s on Market, says Jason Woodyard, owner of Woodyard Development.

Crawford Hoying Development and Woodyard Development are also working to convert the former Delco building, located adjacent to the stadium’s west entrance plaza, into 132 industrial loft-style residential rental units with a restaurant on the first floor, says Woodyard.

The baseball stadium had a huge impact on bringing those two developments to the area, he says. “Just about everybody’s been to a [Dragons] game and, I think, had a positive experience,” Woodyard says. “It just added a level of familiarity that really gave us a good jump start. And then obviously with all the summer festivals and things that take place in and around Riverscape [MetroPark] it was just a very comfortable place to start a development like that.”

Other projects have been built near the stadium, including BarryStaff’s new headquarters, the Patterson Place and Patterson Square residential developments by Charlie Simms, and Tech Town’s office and research space developments.

And that’s exactly what Dayton officials were hoping for when they sought to bring a minor league baseball team to the city in the late 1990s. Former Dayton City Commissioner Tony Capizzi, now a Montgomery County Juvenile Court judge, says it was his idea. He says it was important to build the team’s stadium downtown to revitalize the area.

“I felt that minor league baseball was a solution to the economic development issues for downtown,” says Capizzi. “My plan was let’s build a stadium and that will bring more people, that will bring more entertainment, that will bring more housing,” he says. Two other sites were considered for the baseball stadium, says Capizzi.

“I really fought hard against the UD site and the site out at Hara Arena because those defeated my purpose,” Capizzi says. “It didn’t help downtown economic development. I envisioned the development of restaurants, entertainment and then a growth of housing.”

That’s exactly what is happening now. “It was everybody’s desire that it might have been sooner,” says Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership and a member of the task force in the late 1990s that brought baseball to Dayton. “But beyond that so much of the development plans are coming to fruition now.”

Both Capizzi and Gudorf are quick to point out that the Dragons’ Murphy and Deutsch, who have been with the team since the beginning, deserve much of the credit for helping to revitalize downtown.

“They created one of the best entertainment experiences in all of baseball,” says Gudorf. “It has been successful in bringing tens of thousands of people to downtown every year, and that helps our small businesses, that helps our restaurants and pubs and everything.”

It’s been rewarding watching all the new development happening around the stadium, says Deutsch. Particularly since the area didn’t look like much when he and Murphy stepped outside the cab that day in 1998.

“It was definitely a sight to see in terms of, whoa, you definitely had to have some vision to envision a $22 million stadium coming from the ground that we were looking at,” says Deutsch. “But then after talking with people in the city, the county, Chamber of Commerce, other individuals, the Downtown Dayton Partnership, it just seemed like people were very positive about what could be.” 

It turns out they were right. And cab drivers in the Miami Valley now know exactly where 500 E. First St. is located.