DAYTON, Ky. -- City manager Michael Giffen has invested more than a decade of hope in 143 vacant acres on the Dayton riverfront.
Before the weekslong Ohio River flood of 1937 devastated cities along the water, Giffen explained Thursday, Dayton had a population of around 10,000. The passage of 80 years whittled that number down by drips and drabs until it stood where it does today: around 5,300, lower than any census-recorded estimate since 1890.
He believes that developing homes along the riverfront -- a desirable region in most other Greater Cincinnati communities -- will help drive the population back up, but the process of developing lots in the Manhattan Harbor neighborhood has involved years of planning, raising the flood plain and grappling with parking regulations.
"We expected there to be some kind of resistance starting out," he said. "Has it been slower than we hoped? Yeah, of course. (But) it's not a sprint. It's a marathon."
The developer approached Dayton to develop the 48 single-family lots on the waterfront in 2005. The city signed in 2008, but the Great Recession hamstrung the construction effort until 2011, when work resumed.
Today, seven homes have been built; 25 lots have been sold to become condos, apartments and townhomes. If -- when -- they all fill up, Giffen believes the population of Dayton will double, and the city itself can join the many surrounding Northern Kentucky communities forging strong economic links with Cincinnati proper.
"I'm like, man, I can see Downtown from some areas of Dayton," he said. "We're right there in the heart of the urban core. It's exciting. … We can be one of the greatest Northern Kentucky communities in the area."
Eric Bosler, co-founder of Darkness Brewing, said he sees the raw materials present in Dayton already: Nice houses, beautiful views. (And his own business, of course.) The only problem is that there isn't much to attract people to the city to see it. A population boom would hopefully bring with it an accompanying boom in shops, restaurants and reasons to explore the city.
Giffen believes the marathon could be in its closing stretch.
"2018 could be the year that this thing pops and starts to snowball," he said. "We're excited about it."