After port's acquisition, is there enough time for one more hockey season at the Gardens?

Posted at 6:27 PM, Jul 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-07 18:37:09-04

CINCINNATI – The opportunity for one final hockey season at the Cincinnati Gardens doesn’t appear very promising after a meeting of more than a dozen area hockey supporters with The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority this afternoon.

And that could mean the 67-year-old arena may be another step toward demolition. But, the closing date hasn’t been finalized yet and there is still one final chance.

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

St. Xavier hockey coach Kevin Taylor said the door is open just slightly for a last-ditch effort of having hockey this winter.

The group of area hockey supporters plan to find an independent engineer to make another assessment of the Gardens’ condition and what needs to be addressed for the next six months. Taylor said the biggest concern is safety and the hockey group believes a reassessment of the building, which has a capacity to hold 10,000 people, is appropriate to determine whether another six months of competition is feasible.

“We have a little sliver of hope to come back and do some due diligence of our own,” Taylor said.

But, the cost involved in making such updates and repairs will be another question.

“We have no other place to go,” Taylor said. “We need to explore every opportunity.”

Taylor said his group must report back to the Port in the next few weeks.

Gail Paul, Director of Communications for the Port Authority, told WCPO he doesn't think hockey this winter is likely.

“I will say it’s not looking good because of the condition,” he said.

Paul said the meeting also brought heightened awareness about the need for additional ice space in the Cincinnati area. She said the auction proceeds of the arena seats could go back to the area hockey community as they seek another venue.

Taylor said the Gardens building is obsolete but the timing of the announcement couldn’t be a worse time given scheduling for the upcoming season.

“We are going to put together a coalition of interested parties with one united voice to build a new rink,” Taylor said.

Taylor previously told La Salle, St. Xavier, Elder and Moeller offered to pay all operating costs to keep the rink open through the upcoming season while simultaneously finding a new home rink for the following season.

Taylor said a potential rental fee for the upcoming winter was not discussed at Thursday’s meeting.

Xavier University and the Cincinnati Thunder hockey teams also operate out of the Gardens.

"The elimination of the main ice and the annex at the Gardens eliminates 40 percent of the usable ice in Cincinnati," Taylor said. "Without the addition of a new rink, that will be detrimental to hockey in Cincinnati."

There are three other rinks within an hour from the city -- Northland Ice Center, Indian Hill Winter Club and SportsPlus.

The Gardens was built in 1949 and has hosted hockey, boxing, pro wrestling, the NBA’s Cincinnati Royals, the 1966 NBA All-Star Game, UC basketball games featuring Oscar Robertson prior to his arrival with the Royals, Middletown High School basketball games featuring Jerry Lucas prior to his arrival to Ohio State and the Royals and the home site for Xavier basketball among many other college and professional sporting events.

“It was a good arena," Lucas told last month. "I enjoyed playing there. It was a great place to play basketball.”

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

Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Michael Jackson, Madonna and other musical performers have had concerts there along with other non-sporting events.

The current St. X hockey locker room is where the Beatles held its 1964 news conference at the Gardens at the time of its concert.

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 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. The game was attended by Charles Sawyer, Harry Truman’s Secretary of Commerce.

Information from WCPO web editor Marais Jacon-Duffy and WCPO contributor Liz Engel was used in this report.