Port Authority plans to close on Cincinnati Gardens property Friday

CINCINNATI - The arena that once hosted the Beatles, Elvis, the Jackson Five, Oscar and Luke is in its final days.

The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority plans to close on the sale of the Cincinnati Gardens property July 15, Port Authority communications manager Gail Paul told WCPO.com this morning.

“We are currently evaluating demolition plans for the Gardens structure,” Paul told WCPO.com.

The Port Authority will close on the 67-year-old Cincinnati Gardens Friday and demolition plans are being discussed.

The Port approved a contract June 15 to acquire the iconic property located at 2250 Seymour Avenue in Cincinnati for $1.75 million. Plans for the 19-acre site call for re-purposing for future light manufacturing.

Area hockey coaches attempted to keep the 67-year-old arena open for one more winter due to scheduling purposes for the upcoming high school and college seasons along with the Cincinnati Thunder, a USA Hockey-sanctioned junior team.

A group of area hockey supporters met with the Port July 7. But, the Port said the building condition made it unlikely it would stay open until next spring. The building had been on the market for three years prior to its sale.

St. Xavier coach Kevin Taylor said last week the plan was to find an independent engineer that could make another safety assessment of the 10,000-seat venue to see if it could stay open another six months.

But, the hockey group didn’t have a chance at an additional inspection. Taylor said this morning he wasn’t surprised with the closing date and the news this morning is the “nails in the coffin.”

“Just wish the (Port Authority) was willing to put forth an effort to help us,” Taylor told WCPO.com. “My point is this – if the building is in such disrepair as the Port Authority claims, why is it still open?”

The occupancy closing is not known yet. Paul said last week the Port plans to have a public auction for the seats with the proceeds being donated to the area hockey community.

The Gardens was built in 1949 and has hosted hockey, boxing, basketball, pro wrestling among other sporting events.

The NBA’s Cincinnati Royals played there from 1957 to 1972. The franchise moved after the '71-72 season and became the Kansas City-Omaha Kings in 1972-73. The team was known as the Kansas City Kings from 1975-85 and later became the current Sacramento Kings.

The Gardens hosted the 1966 NBA All-Star Game, which included Wilt Chamberlin, Bill Russell, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas among others. Legendary coach Red Auerbach coached the East squad.

Auerbach flipped a coin at the Hilton Netherland Plaza hotel earlier that January day to determine whether Russell or Chamberlin would start the game that night for his squad at the Gardens.

The 6-foot-10 Russell and the 7-foot-1 Chamberlin towered over the legendary Boston Celtics coach as he stood between them to flip the coin. All three watched the coin intently.

When Chamberlin emerged as the winner, the Philadelphia superstar center grinned at the result and joked the coin flip was fixed.

There was nothing pre-determined that night for Royals guard Adrian Smith. The now 79-year-old Anderson Township resident won MVP honors of the 1966 all-star game and was presented with an automobile by famed television announcer Harry Caray.

The Gardens also hosted UC basketball games featuring the Big O prior to his arrival with the Royals, and Middletown High School basketball games featuring Lucas prior to his arrival with Cincinnati's NBA team.

Lucas played hundreds of games at the Gardens and played his Middletown High regular-season games there against Hamilton in mid-to-late 1950s.

The Jan. 17, 1958 game drew 13,649 while the Feb. 10, 1956 drew 13,167.

“It was really electric,” Lucas told WCPO.com last month. “(Fans) came from all over and different states to watch that game. There was a huge amount of interest.”

Xavier University used the Gardens as its home court starting with the 1983-84 season. The final Xavier game at the Gardens was an NIT first round game against Marquette on March 15, 2000.

Mickey Mantle once appeared at a baseball card show at the Gardens.

The largest recorded crowd in Gardens history occurred Oct. 25, 1960 as 19,000 attended a Richard Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge campaign rally, according to the arena website.

The arena hosted countless sporting events and concerts along with comedians, symphony orchestras, Broadway-style musicals, political rallies, roller derby, circuses, dog shows, dirt track auto racing and faith events. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rev. Billy Graham spoke there.

The Beatles performed there Aug. 27, 1964 and drew 14,000. The site of their news conference was the St. Xavier hockey locker room.

The facility most recently served as home to Cincinnati Rollergirls, the city’s first amateur, all-female, flat track roller derby team.

The Gardens cost $3 million to build in 1949 – the equivalent of more than $29 million today.

The Montreal Canadiens played an exhibition game Feb. 22, 1949 in front of 11,500 to open the Gardens. 

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