Sunday, October 4, 2015

Uncertainty Over Status of Hara Arena

Will Hara Arena still be open when it's time for the 2016 Dayton Hamvention®? That is the basic question being faced by the Dayton Amateur Radio Association (DARA), the owners of Hara Arena and local government officials, all of whom want to be sure the world's largest ham radio gathering remains where it has been since 1964. Last year, according to news reports, the Hamvention was responsible for contributing $8.5 million to the region's economy.

There have been rumors for years that the arena was about to close, but an announcement at the end of the 2015 show promised improvements at the half-century old exhibition center in time for the 2016 event. However, news reports in early October cast new doubts on the arena's ongoing viability.

The reports - first on WHIO-TV and then in the Dayton Daily News - centered on a July e-mail sent by Hara Marketing Director Karen Wampler to the city manager and a city councilman in Trotwood, the municipality in which Hara Arena is actually located. A consultant hired by Hara recommended this summer that the city purchase the venue, but Trotwood officials felt such a move would be too risky, according to the reports. A Dayton Daily News article in late 2014 reported that Hara owed more than $300,000 in back taxes, but was working with local authorities to pay down that balance.

Wampler's e-mail, which the TV station and newspaper (both owned by Cox Media Ohio) received through a public records request, informed the local officials that they had briefed the Hamvention's chairman and select board members on the arena's status and said "they are reeling" after being told that the venue might be forced to close. "They … like us, believed we were close to stabilizing Hara for future growth, rather than ending her nearly 60-year run," Wampler wrote, adding that "(t)here may be one last chance to add Hamvention investment dollars to the proposal before their Board puts all its resources into relocating their event - most likely out of Montgomery County - in 2016."

She told the Daily News in an interview for the October 3 article that the arena is now in much better shape than it had been in July, when that e-mail was written, and that there are no current plans to close.
Hamvention General Chairman Jim Tiderman, N8IDS, shared Wampler's current optimism in a statement issued after the news reports ran. He said DARA "is fully committed to (holding) the 2016 Dayton Hamvention at Hara Arena and Exposition Center … on May 20, 21, 22, 2016," and told the newspaper that "We do not have any plans whatsoever for relocating."

Tiderman dismissed other reports as "speculation," but added that DARA is "still (keeping) an open mind to alternate plans in case they become necessary." The news articles had reported that Hamvention officials had met with the Dayton/Montgomery County Convention and Visitors Bureau and others to examine other possible venues within the Dayton area in the event that Hara was no longer an option.

Bottom line: As of early October, Hara Arena remains open and intends to host the Hamvention next May; and DARA will hold the 2016 Hamvention at Hara as long as the facility is still open. However, uncertainty continues and contingency plans are being considered in case a move is necessary.