Except when Hamvention is in town, the parking lot of Hara Arena in Trotwood is rarely as full as it was in black and white aerial photos taken during the facility’s heyday of the 1960s.
The conference and exhibition center, 1001 Shiloh Springs Road, is 50 years old this year. Events there still draw crowds, but those have become noticeably smaller as the facility has aged and other venues have opened in the region. Arena owners, members of the family that built the facility in 1964, say they are now in talks that they hope will lead to a restructured ownership and badly-needed renovation.
Karen Wampler, Hara’s director of marketing and a member of the family that built Hara, said part of the arena’s challenges include a lack of renovation and deferred maintenance. The family, she said, cares about the facility but is limited in what they can afford.
“There are times when we fall short because the resources are not there,” said Wampler, who is the daughter-in-law of the arena’s co-founder Ralph Wampler.
The other issue for the 50-year-old arena is competing venues. Indoor event and concert venues in the region include Wright State’s Nutter Center, the downtown Dayton Convention Center, U.D. Arena, the Dayton Airport Expo Center at Dayton International Airport, Troy’s Hobart Arena and several banquet centers.
“There are shinier, newer buildings everywhere and there are alternatives,” Wampler said. “The reason (the public comes) here is that we make it easy for them to come here.”
“There is a tremendous amount of competition out there and competition creates stress in the business model,” said John Siehl, Chief Operating Officer for VenuWorks, a venue management company based in Iowa. “One of the stiffest things they are up against, besides the current financial situation driven by the estate issues, is the fact that there is a lot of competition.”
Wampler said Hara hosted 239 events last year and brought in approximately $34 million in economic impact to the community.
Siehl said he believes the arena has the ability to do approximately 300 events a year based on the complex’s past attendance.
“We have been working with local, county and state officials to increase those numbers through a restructured, renovated Hara,” Wampler said.
The arena was built in 1964 by brothers Harold and Ralph Wampler, who named it ‘Hara’ using the first two letters of each of their first names. The property where the complex was built had been part of the Wampler Fruit Farm.
“Hara Arena has been a revered landmark for over 50 years,” said Karen Celik, president of Trotwood’s Area Chamber of Commerce. “It has been the venue for major concerts, sporting events, circuses, trade shows and, of course, the Hamvention, which attracts participants from all over the world.”
The Wampler family has been working with VenuWorks for three years. Its a consulting partnership designed to restructure the ownership of the arena, which has 12 core staff members and hundreds of seasonal workers.
“Our whole focus is to help them restructure the ownership model and to find a workable, viable business model and keep the arena operating at a very successful manner,” said Siehl, who is also Hara’s former general manager.
“Our goal is to change Hara’s private ownership model and bring renovation dollars to the building,” Wampler said. She added that she hopes there will be an announcement about Hara’s future next year. “We are coming up on some very pivotal meetings that will decide Hara’s future.”
So far no one is giving hints about what’s happening in these meetings.
“We’re also continually trying to put some events in there. Although that’s a secondary focus at this point,” Siehl said.
Some of the events at Hara Arena are Hamvention, one of the world’s largest gathering of amateur radio gatherings, Dayton Demonz hockey games, Bill Goodman’s Gun & Knife Show, Dayton Train Show and the Dayton Metro Library Book Sale.
“Due to no fault of their own, they are in a situation where they have been restricted on some different main events, etc., within the facility and there are some needs there,” Siehl said. “They just need to get out from under some current situations that are keeping them from really operating in a very dynamic manner.”
When asked if the ownership restructuring has anything to do with changing Hara from private to public ownership, Siehl said, “There needs to be an infusion of some cash. A change in ownership would create that. The cashflow situation that they are currently in due to some estate issues that go back a number of years into the 13-year, 15-year time frame.”
Trotwood City Manager Michael Lucking said the city has not tried to buy Hara, but is trying to connect the owners with new assistance.
“The City of Trotwood maintains a close working relationship with the Hara Arena ownership,” Lucking said. “We are aware of their current business challenges and are working to pair them with all available resources.”
Karen Wampler said the arena is struggling, but declined to give specifics on what she meant by the term.
Montgomery County auditor and treasurer records show that there are two parcels of land that make up the arena complex and both parcels total $394,842.17 in delinquent property taxes. The parcel with the arena is owned by Harold Wampler Jr. and Edna Wampler and they have a payment plan with the treasurer’s office for the $246,335.91 owed in delinquent property taxes.
“Hara is owned under the Harold and Ralph Wampler partnership. Edna was Ralph’s wife, Harold’s sister-in-law. When Ralph died his interest was passed on to his wife Edna’s trust,” Karen Wampler said. “Clearly there is struggle, but it’s struggle towards an end. What we hope to be a very, very positive end.”
In order to usher in this new era, Hara officials need adequate resources like personnel, money for renovation and operation.
“The new era will involve visible improvement,” Karen Wampler said.
Fans of the facility are hopeful for a rebound.
“I’ve attended the library book sale for the past two and a half years, and loved the experience it provided. There was a lot of space available at Hara for such a large-scale event,” said Nina Scroggins Carter, a former Dayton resident who now lives in Pennsylvania. “Whenever I walked in the space, it never looked dingy, scary, or worse yet-dilapidated. However, I would love to see the space receive a little makeover (for present day aesthetics); lighting, local artists’ work on the walls, and maybe even new flooring. There is a need for Hara Arena to remain relevant, in order to spread regional growth.”
David Greer, chairman of Dayton’s Northwest Priority Board, said he’s attended several events at Hara Arena.
“Back in the 70’s and 80’s, Hara Arena was primarily the only venue of large events that the west side of Dayton residents had,” Greer said. “I can remember attending various entertainment events like the Ohio Players, wrestling with BoBo Brazil, The Sheik and others. And Monster Cars. There were balls and celebrations held at Hara Arena.”
“Hara Arena has a long and distinguished history as a sports and performance venue and is certainly valued for their long history of civic contributions,” Lucking said.
“Hara is extremely important to Trotwood and the entire region, both economically and historically. The public should continue to support events at Hara,” Celik said. “It is hoped that ongoing efforts to rectify Hara’s financial difficulties will prove successful.”
HARA ARENA MEMORIES
Dan Baker, Cincinnati resident and former Dayton police officer
“When I lived in Dayton, I took my children to ice shows, the circus and hockey games…Mostly, the boys and me enjoyed the professional wrestlers. It was a noisy, rowdy crowd. Stars like Hulk Hogan, The Iron Shiek, Sgt. Slaughter and Rick Flair played out titanic good vs. evil battles. We yelled our heads off!..We were always ready to pile in the car and head for Hara.”
Walter Ohlmann, president and CEO of the Ohlmann Group, and Dayton resident
“Many years ago, I was there for a closed-circuit fight with Mike Tyson. I sneezed just as the fight started and missed the fight. He knocked out his opponent in the first minute of the first round. Don’t remember the opponent. It’s probably in the record books.”
Daria Dillard Stone, Parent Advocate and Dayton resident
“I was a singer with several high school bands and that is where we’d play for all the high school events and dances and some of the adults. I also remember my parents getting dressed to go jam at the Hara Arena for all kinds of events that included the Shriners, Civic Clubs, Sororities/Fraternities, fun clubs, etc…As an adult…I remember singing with Mr. G and the Sidewinders and the Buddy Webb Orchestra for the Peppermint ball, the Black & White Ball and also the Sweethearts Ball.”
Hara Arena was built in 1964 by brothers Harold and Ralph Wampler. The name Hara was created out of the first two letters of the Wampler brothers’ first names. Go to MyDaytonDailyNews.com for video of Karen Wampler, Hara’s director of Marketing, telling the story of Hara’s history.
NHL Hall of Fame hockey player Wayne Gretzky played his first professional game at Hara Arena
- The first arena concert was The Rolling Stones, who played there in 1964.
*Source is Karen Wampler, Hara Arena’s director of Marketing