Editorial: Does DARA have Hamvention contingency plans if Hara Arena closes its doors?

It is difficult for any one of us to think about the Dayton Hamvention being held anywhere other than the Hara Arena.  After all, the Hara has been the home of Hamvention since 1964. Those of us die-hards that attend the Hamvention each May have a love-hate relationship with the place. We love the fact that it hasn’t collapsed on thousands of fellow hams.  We hate the fact that the plumbing is woefully inadequate, as demonstrated during the “Great Poopocalypse of 2011“:

1932225_10202841152127170_319204476_nThe above video also demonstrates the quality of the asphalt parking lot.  It hasn’t seen a new coat of asphalt in decades.  Luckily, there were enough potholes to contain the million or so gallons of liquid caca.  Inside the building isn’t much better — water stains on the walls and ceiling tiles, dim lighting, wet bathroom floors… I have editorialized about this a few times in the past.  I had a good write-up in the qrz.com forums in 2012, and also on my old personal blog in 2009.

So we all know how bad the place is.  It’s probably not going to get any better, and the point was driven home this week when WDTN TV-2 News in Dayton did a small piece on how the Hara Arena is struggling to keep the doors open.

Let’s be honest here.  For all of it’s faults, the Hara Arena isn’t really a bad place.  The family-owned complex has been struggling for some time, but much of it is because it has faced stiff competition from convention centers and arenas that are subsidized by the taxpayers or by large universities (like Wright State University’s Nutter Center).

So what about the Hamvention?  The Hamvention has called Hara it’s home for over 50 years.  Since then, it has grown into the place.  The Hamvention fits the place so well that it is logistically difficult to even think about moving it.  Every arena and ballroom in the place is filled with the inside vendors (2014 had 260 individual vendors filling 505 vendor spaces).  The smaller banquet rooms are used for classes and forums.  And the entire parking lot is so stuffed full with vendors (in 2014 there were 753 outdoor vendors filling 1785 parking-space sized spaces) that there is no visitor parking on premises — people usually park at a local abandoned mall or at some of the private lots around the property.  However, due to recent developments that weren’t at all unexpected, I am almost certain that the Dayton Amateur Radio Association must have contingency plans.

So, because everybody on the Internet is an expert at everything, and everybody on the Internet cares about what everybody else thinks, I am going to take a moment here and pretend that I am the Dayton Hamvention board of directors, I have just heard the news that the Hara Arena may shut down at any day, and that I need to implement contingency plans.  It is just over five months until Hamvention right now, so that’s the angle I’m going to take.

Again, as with my editorial about the Fort Waye Hamfest’s falling numbers, this is only my opinion.  Again, I am sure that an organization such as DARA, who has put on this successful event for more than 62 years, is wise enough to plan for the future.

First, I’m going to make an assumption.  I will assume that the Hara Arena will still be open in May 2015.  Why?  Because it will be absolutely impossible to move the event in five months.  If the place closes before May, we’re all screwed anyway.

Second, just in case the arena does close before May, I would start adding Force majeure clauses to all of the vendor agreements and the terms and conditions for purchasing a ticket.  That’s a fancy French term that basically means that if the place shuts down, we’ll refund your reservations and deposits and admission charges, but if you have other expenses, well, sucks to be you.  Yes, people will be pissed.  But it might protect DARA from some lawsuits and judgements.

Third, I would start looking for a venue.  Right now.  Ideally the venue would meet all of the following requirements:

  1. Have the infrastructure to handle 25 to 30 thousand attendees.
  2. Have nearby and cost-effective parking for said attendees.
  3. Have enough indoor vendor space for 250-300 vendors, enough electrical power for these vendors, and enough square footage to meet fire codes for the 25,000 people milling around.
  4. Have enough parking spots that can be converted to 1500-2000 flea market spaces.
  5. Be near enough to Dayton so that the volunteers from the Dayton Amateur Radio Association can feasibly handle the logistics of all of it.
  6. Be a union-free facility.

Now do you see why the Hara Arena is such a perfect place?  The manufacturers like Kenwood, Icom, and Yaesu bring their trade-show quality displays to Hamvention.  They aren’t going to want to set up in a tent or at a 4-H Fairground horse barn.  Ham Radio Outlet isn’t going to want to have to worry about a drenching rain ruining their inventory.  There is going to have to be quality indoor space.  Then there’s the outdoor flea market.  There has to be enough outdoor space to handle this.

Many people have asked why the Hamvention needs to be held in Dayton.  The answer is simple–it’s operated by a group of volunteers in a non-profit organization in Dayton.  I could see it moving to Columbus or Cincinnati, but not more than two hours away.

And it must be a union-free facility.  I’m not dissin’ the unions here.  But it’s extremely important because many union convention halls require that all of the setup of the exhibits and the hauling from the loading docks to be done by unionized employees of the venue.  It’s not a terrible stretch to imagine Kenwood grudgingly paying union members to set up the trade show booth.  It is an extreme stretch to imagine The Sign Man of Baton Rouge, Debco Electronics, Bob Heil or the Wireman having to pay to have someone else set up their stuff.  Or, even worse, the Podunk Amateur Radio Club having to pay a union hump to put up their EZ-Up tent and tables.  It’s just not going to work.  Look what the Hara Arena already charges Hamvention vendors for drayage (shipment, receiving, handling, and storage) and for extra services like tables and electrical power — it ain’t cheap to you and me but it’s a bargain for the big guys. Imagine the costs if the unions got involved?

So, right about now I would start finding venues within a two hour drive of Dayton, and start working out details of costs and possible union waivers.

Fourth, I would start working very closely with the Dayton-Montgomery County Convention and Visitors Bureau.  They’ll help, because of the millions of dollars of revenue that comes into the area because of Hamvention.

Fifth, I would start increasing the ticket prices.  $20 (advance, $25 at the door) for three days is an absolute bargain.  It’s under a dollar per hour.  It’s been that way for at least as long as I have attended.  $30 (advance) would be acceptable in my humble opinion, but you aren’t going to make that jump in 12 months.  A $5 increase would increase ticket revenue by 25% and would be an acceptable change.  There will be some people that gripe about this.  We don’t want them anyway.

Sixth, it’s time to pass the hat.  Seriously.  This year the announcement should be made that a new location will need to be found in the next 12-36 months.  And that the new location will be much more expensive than the Hara.  And will probably be nicer.  And we need to raise up some capital to cover the expected increase in expenses.  I’ll be willing to donate.

Seventh, unless the Hara just shuts down in the next few months, I would absolutely not cancel Hamvention for a year just to get our bearings.  If you do that, it’s game over.  A transition year where we have a temporary facility while we work out particulars with a brand new place would be preferable.  Still, it would be a logistics nightmare creating new floor plans and flea market layouts.


SO, I am sure that DARA has considered everything and is keeping an eye on the whole situation.  At least I hope so.  This is just what I would do.


(Published from Chicago, IL)



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