Port Authority officially closes on purchase of Cincinnati Gardens

CINCINNATI - The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority has closed on its purchase of the Cincinnati Gardens, the Gardens announced in a statement Thursday morning.

There were no immediate details on when the 67-year-old arena will be closed or the timeline of when it will be razed. The Port hasn't hired a demolition contractor yet, according to Port spokeswoman Gail Paul.

“We announce with very mixed emotions that The Cincinnati Gardens has been sold,” said Pete Robinson, President and CEO of The Cincinnati Gardens. “We wish the new owners, the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, nothing but the best. We are eternally grateful and thankful to all who have been a part of our chapter of The Gardens history and lore. On behalf of our family and our great employees, it has been a privilege and honor to serve as the curator of such a historic and fabled Cincinnati landmark.”

The Gardens said it will provided additional opportunities in the upcoming weeks to discuss the historical impact of the Cincinnati landmark. The Port previously told WCPO.com the 10,000 seats may be auctioned off with proceeds possibly going to the area hockey community.

The Port approved a contract June 15 to acquire the property located at 2250 Seymour Avenue in Cincinnati for $1.75 million. The 19-acre site will be repurposed for future light manufacturing.

“The Robinson family is now and forever synonymous with the Cincinnati Gardens and all of the joyful moments shared among thousands who experienced signature events and epic shows,” said Laura N. Brunner, Port Authority President & CEO. “These lasting memories have created a community imprint that will endure beyond the physical structure itself.”

The Port Authority is working on finalizing details of the site work and expects to communicate plans with nearby business owners and residents by early fall. The Port plans to market the site nationally.

“This site is going to be a very attractive relocation or expansion location,” said Melissa Johnson, Port Authority Director of Industrial Development and Logistics. “We have confidence that this site will be among our first re-developments of obsolete inventory to bring advanced manufacturing back to the Hamilton County.”

Area hockey coaches made a final pitch July 7 to play one final season this winter, but the Port said it was moving forward to close on the property this month.

Since 1979, the Robinson family has owned the sports and entertainment venue.

During that span, Xavier University basketball (1983-2000) played at the arena. The final Xavier game at the Gardens was an NIT first round game against Marquette on March 15, 2000.

Professional hockey returned to the city with the Cincinnati Cyclones (1990-97) and the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks (1997-2005) also played there.

The arena also hosted the Beatles, Elvis, the Jackson Five, Jimi Hendrix, circuses, monster truck shows, pro wrestling, boxing, indoor football and soccer and many other events.

The Gardens was built in 1949 and was the seventh largest arena in the country at the time.

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.

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. The Ohio state basketball finals were played there in 1953 and '55.

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.

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 most recently 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 Cincinnati Rollergirls (2007-2016) had the final event in the history of the Gardens with its game June 11, 2016.

The Cincinnati Gardens exit sign on Interstate 75 will be addressed at some point but will remain there for now, according to Ohio Department of Transportation spokesman Brian Cunningham.

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