The Dayton Hara Arena & Exhibition Center Inc. will hold its last event on Aug. 27, taking with it a $36 million annual economic impact, officials announced in a press release Friday.
The iconic venue brought sports, concerts, entertainment and special interest shows to the Miami Valley for more than 60 years, but ultimately could not overcome an internal legal battle that has spanned the last two decades, the release said.
The arena’s problems started when founder Harold Wampler died in 1996. His unresolved estate — under which Hara is co-owned — launched a 20 year family and legal battle that drained Hara of the resources for much-needed renovations and reorganization, according to the press release.
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“We are painfully aware of the loss this announcement will generate, which is why we have fought so long and hard to prevent it,” says Karen Wampler, Hara’s marketing director in the release, noting that the loss will come in the form of $36 million in annual economic impact; youth, men’s and professional hockey programs; and the hundreds of events that called Hara home this past year.
Hara was one of the few family-owned venues of its kind. The Wamplers, with the help of national venue management company, VenuWorks, worked relentlessly for years to change that to a public-private ownership structure to clear Hara’s debt, lighten its tax burden and place it on a more sustainable path, but were unsuccessful.
“This closure announcement was preceded by a heroic fight by our incredibly dedicated staff, the invaluable support of our local police and fire departments, and the loyalty of our sponsors, show promoters and patrons,” Wampler said in the release. “We want to thank them all for their commitment to Hara and their contribution to its incredible 60-year run.
“We had hoped to announce a new era at Hara, but are announcing the end of one, instead, Wampler said.
The staff is working to help relocate as many Hara events as possible within Montgomery County, according to the release. The Dayton Amateur Radio Association (DARA) planned on hosting the 2017 Dayton Hamvention at Hara Arena.
“DARA and Hamvention have been working on a contingency plan in the event HARA would become unavailable,” said Ron Cramer, general chairman of the Hamvention. “We have spent many hours over the last few years evaluating possible locations and have found one in the area we believe will be a great new home.”
DARA has not announced a new venue for the 2017 event yet, according to a statement from Cramer.
The arena was among three sites in Trotwood that were considered as possible new locations for the Montgomery County Fair. Wampler said the fair board members have decided to go in a different direction.
Over the years, Hara has hosted hundreds of high-profile events that include presidential visits, Wayne Gretzky's pro hockey debut and performances by the Rolling Stones, Prince, Nirvana and the Grateful Dead, to name just a few. But Hara's most lasting memories may be more personal ones.
“For our 50-year anniversary, we had people send in their favorite Hara memories, I assumed the stories would center around sold-out concerts or larger-than-life events like the Ringling Brothers Circus or pro wrestling,” says Wampler. “But they were mostly sweet stories of a first kiss at a Winterland skate, a first love at a high school prom, a father-daughter dance at a wedding reception, a multi-generational annual shopping tradition at the Gift Show or the life-changing guidance of a hockey coach. Those memories will be Hara’s legacy.”
For some, the closure of Hara Arena feels like memories slipping away. John Fox, a resident of New Carlisle, said he saw at least 75 concerts at the venue. Fox recalled seeing Nirvana and Van Halen concerts there, and spending summers at the car shows with his parents.
“Venues have just changed so much, and that was such a good one,” he said. ” I’m really sad to hear about it. It’s just a lot of good memories. I had so much fun there.”