Fears about Hamvention leaving town because of Hara Arena’s economic struggles has local officials scrambling to propose alternative sites for the economy-boosting event.
Hamvention, the world’s largest gathering of amateur radio enthusiasts, injects millions of dollars into the local economy each year. It has been held at Hara Arena since 1964.
But the arena has struggled financially, and an Iowa-based consultant firm recently asked the city of Trotwood to buy the venue, which Trotwood officials declined. The venue’s owner says the arena is on better financial footing today.
A series of emails obtained by this newspaper through public records requests show that local officials fear Hamvention could pack up and move out of the region and highlight their efforts to keep the event in the Dayton region.
The Dayton/Montgomery County Convention & Visitors Bureau has worked with city of Dayton staff on a Plan B to ensure the event remains in the county if it needs to relocate, said Jacquelyn Powell, the bureau’s president and CEO.
“I want to make it clear that this isn’t the first year that we’ve looked at Plan B options,” she said. “There have been other years where we’ve had this conversation as well.”
The Hamvention board has no intentions of leaving Hara Arena, said Jim Tiderman, general chairman of the Dayton Amateur Radio Association, which hosts the event.
“We do not have any plans whatsoever for relocating,” Tiderman said.
Email outlines arena issues
News of Hamvention’s possible relocation was mentioned in an email dated July 7 that was obtained by this newspaper through a public records request.
Karen Wampler, director of Marketing for Hara Arena, wrote the email. It was addressed to then Trotwood City Manager Michael Lucking and Trotwood City Councilman Rap Hankins.
“We have shared the fate of the Trotwood/VenuWorks/Hara acquisition proposal with the Chairperson and select board members of Hamvention,” Wampler said in the email. “While we have kept them informed throughout the process, they are reeling. They have much to lose with Hara’s closing and like us, believed we were close to stabilizing Hara for future growth, rather than ending her nearly 60-year run. There 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,” continued Wampler’s email.
Wampler said in an interview that the July 7 email was referring to the partnership between the city of Trotwood and VenuWorks, a venue management company based in Iowa that is the consultant to Hara’s founders and owners, the Wampler family. This partnership resulted in the city being presented with the idea of purchasing Hara.
Quincy Pope, Trotwood’s interim city manager, said the city was approached with the idea of purchasing Hara Arena, but declined.
“The city did review a proforma, looked at the business and I think that at this time it was too much of a risk for the city to invest the kind of dollars that it would take to make that investment,” Pope said.
Wampler said Hara is in much better shape than it was when she sent that July 7 email and the event complex isn’t closing anytime soon, despite what her email said.
According to Wampler’s email, Hamvention officials have begun exploring options, but does not specify those options.
The email ends with a reference to a proposal, but does not state the specifics of the proposal.
“Or given the challenges in the proposal and deeply polarized state of Council, do you advise that we not pursue this ‘Hail Mary Pass’ and begin notifying our clients (beginning with Hamvention) and community of Hara’s closing? We don’t want to give up before we have exhausted every possibility, but we don’t wish to put Hamvention, Venuworks or our staff through another lengthy, doomed attempt,” Wampler wrote.
Meanwhile planning meetings between Hara and DARA officials about Hamvention 2016 have already begun, Wampler said.
Dayton venues presented as options
On Aug. 26, Dayton Convention Center Manager Michael Cashman sent an email to the executive secretary of Dayton’s then-City Manager Warren Price.
“It’s highly unlikely that Hara Arena will be available as an option for them (Hamvention) for 2016, and that is why the county is wanting to have serious discussions on how to make our options more attractive to their committee,” the message said.
In the message, Cashman discussed Hara and said the 2015 and 2016 general chairmen of Hamvention were provided tours of the Dayton Convention Center and the Dayton Airport Expo Center. He said they fear the event will leave the region, just as the Amateur Trapshooting Association did.
In a Sept. 12 email to city management, Cashman said Dayton staff analyzed the space available at Dave Hall Plaza and the surrounding streets to see how it compares in size to the flea market areas at Hara Arena. Staff determined Hara provides considerably more space.
Cashman raised the possibility of “separating the events.”
The University of Dayton Arena parking lot or the Montgomery County Fairgrounds could be possible sites for Hamvention’s flea market areas, and they could offer parking or shuttle service, Cashman said in the email..
Cashman said if the Dave Hall Plaza location was selected, it was important that all associated city services — police, waste removal street maintenance — would be provided at no cost to Hamvention, the email states.
“In addition, it was strongly suggested that we be prepared to offer all (Dayton Convention Center) space at little or no charge to help wean them off their Hara experience,” he wrote.
Later, in a Sept. 22 email to city staff, Cashman said the Montgomery County Fairgrounds might be the better option.
Convention bureau, Hamvention to meet
Powell, with the convention and visitors bureau, said there is a meeting scheduled for later this month to present the Plan B proposal to Hamvention’s organizers.
The meeting, according to emails obtained by this newspaper, will feature representatives from Hamvention, Dayton, Montgomery County, the Dayton Convention Center and the convention and visitors bureau.
She said Hamvention is an extremely important event in the region that attracts about 25,000 people and provided an $8.5 million shot in the arm this year.
But Powell said this is simply to give Hamvention an alternative option if it needs one. She said Hamvention in the past has been presented with alternative site proposals but remained at Hara.
“As far as I know right now, their plans are to hold it at Hara,” Powell said.
The visitors bureau serves all of the county, including Hara Arena, and it stays in close contact with clients like Hamvention to ensure their needs are being met, Powell said.
Hamvention 2016 is scheduled for May 20 to 22. A World A’Fair is scheduled for the same dates at the Dayton Convention Center.
“We are concerned about the uncertainty,” said Wayne Gulden, past president of A World A’Fair
Tiderman, general chairman of the Dayton Amateur Radio Association board of trustees, said the convention and visitors bureau contacted him and set up a meeting.
Tiderman said he was under the impression that this meeting was for the purpose of introducing the representatives of the convention and visitors bureau to the members of amateur radio association.
He said Hamvention is committed to Hara Arena.
However, he said, although there are no plans to move Hamvention, there must be a plan B in place for situations that could occur beyond his association’s control.
Something catastrophic would have to happen in order for the group to consider moving Hamvention from Hara, Tiderman said.
“Right now we don’t see that,” he said. “There are no signs to us from Hara or anybody else that Hara is not going to be able to supply the arena for us in 2016.”