DAYTON — On Friday, owners of the iconic venue Hara Arena announced its closing.
“With heavy hearts, the Wampler family announces that Dayton Hara Arena & Exhibition Center, Inc. will be hosting its last event on August 27, 2016,” read the announcement.
The venue brought sports, concerts, entertainment and special interest shows to the Miami Valley for 60 years, but ultimately could not overcome an internal legal battle that has spanned the last two decades.
It’s been a long goodbye that began with the passing of one of Hara’s founders, Harold Wampler, 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.
“We are painfully aware of the loss this announcement will generate, which is why we have fought so long and hard to prevent it,” said Karen Wampler, Hara’s marketing director. 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,” said Wampler. “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,” said Wampler.
The staff is working to help relocate as many Hara events as possible within Montgomery County.
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,” said 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.”