Part Two: Location, Location, Location

In the wake of NCAA tournament success Frericks moved quickly to capitalize on public interest. The defeat to UCLA had done little to alter the enthusiasm that the run had built for the program. Within weeks of the final game Frericks had managed to convince Roesch and Board of Trustees to reconsider building a new arena. Roesch and the Board agreed to consider a plan for a new arena as long as the cost did not exceed four million dollars (approximately $28.5 million in 2018). Over the next six months Frericks worked with local government officials to determine a location, and because of the limited university resources, to secure a public-private partnership with the city. The need to convince officials to help was made much easier because of the economic troubles and social turmoil meant the city was experiencing. In the coming months Frericks maneuvered to get the best deal for the university. While Roesch and other school administrators had long demonstrated concern and had worked to aid urban renewal efforts, in the end the university’s interests outweighed those of the larger community


The City of Dayton’s Plan for an Arena

The first step was to find a location for the venue. The topic of where the arena would be located was one that dominated most of meetings between the city and the university that took place over the summer of 1967. In addition to the Dayton City Commission, one organization that immediately became involved in discussion was The New Dayton Committee, also known as The Dayton City Improvement Committee, a long-serving advisory body for the city composed of civic leaders who studied community problems surrounding urban development and who also espoused charitable and educational causes. Although not involved in the legislative process, the New Dayton Committee members possessed considerable influence [29]. Concerned about the declining fortunes of the cities downtown and shocked by the smoldering racial tensions and social unrest that had recently rocked the city—a topic that will be discussed in the next section—the Committee proposed that the arena be located downtown where it “would tie together a metropolis and region that often seemed to fly apart” [30].

“City Center West” Source:, Retrieved from 8/17/2018

Plans to revitalize Dayton’s downtown district had been around for nearly 75 years. Mush of the discussion had revolved around creating what became known as a “City Center West.” This would be an expanded commercial district on land in the western edge of the existing downtown. According Jim Nichols’ in his Dayton Album, Remembering Downtown, had become a patchwork of “mean streets” marginally controlled by a bartender named Little Mickey. Between 1958 and 1965 much of it had been bulldozed, new streets created, interstate 75 constructed, and the people who once lived there displaced. City officials were drawn to the idea of constructing a multi-use arena/convention center on this land. They expressed the hope that by working with UD they might be able to foster the growth of new businesses, aid those already struggling, and make the team a unify agent for a much divided city. For a raw, artistic look at downtown Dayton just a few short years later in 1970 you can watch this short 8mm film made by Joseph Slonaker, Gus Miklos and Steve Murphy, three intrepid Chaminade High School juniors.
On July 28, 1967, Frericks, President Roesch, Mayor Dave Hall, and city officials met to discuss the location of the arena. Just as The New Dayton Committee had suggested, the city pushed for a downtown location near the central business district. Planners hoped attendance at the arena would help existing businesses and encourage hotel and restaurant investment to the rapidly decaying area. They also expressed hopes that the downtown location would be a unifying agent for the divided city. The City’s Commission proposed that the arena be built on the recently cleared land in the western edge of the downtown, East of the Miami River and next to the relatively new Interstate 75 [31].


“Center Site: How to Get Most, Best Use” Source: Dayton Daily News, March 24, 1968, Frericks Scrapbook, University of Dayton Archive and Special Collections, University of Dayton

The Business Community Backs Proposals for a New Arena

In the ensuing months business leaders eager to see a multi-use arena/civic center complex developed in the downtown bombarded Roesch and Frericks. Prominent local entrepreneurs such as Edgar B. “Lefty” McFadden (1923-2004) sent President Roesch and Athletic Director Frericks congratulations on the recent success of the team and the progress being made in building it a new home. McFadden used the stationary of his Dayton Gems Hockey Team, a professional league team of which he was the Vice President and General Manager, to encourage university officials to consider the advantages of the city’s proposal. McFadden was one of a new generation of city business leaders that saw growth in the leisure entertainment, especially professional sports, as the most promising path towards the city’s economic revitalization. After serving in World War II, McFadden became a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians and later served as a scout for both Cleveland and the Cincinnati Reds. He made his mark locally as the driving force behind a number of professional sport enterprises including Dayton and New Bremen Speedways, Cincinnati Stingers Hockey Team, Oklahoma City Stars, and Washington Capitals of the National Hockey League. In later years he presided over a number of regional commissions and worked closely with Wright State University and the University of Dayton’s Athletic Departments. [33]

For the Gems a larger venue like at the center of the city would be a dramatic improvement upon its current facilities, Hara Arena, located in the northern suburb of Trotwood. The 5,500-seat multipurpose facility began as a ballroom in 1956, and an added an arena in 1964 that over time hosted the Dayton Jets basketball team, the Dayton Gems, Dayton Blue Hawks, Dayton Owls, Dayton Bombers, Dayton Ice Bandits, Dayton Demonz, and Dayton Demolition ice hockey teams as well as the Marshalls, an indoor football team. McFadden’s hopes for the new arena mirrored that of many other business leaders and the city officials that backed them. [34]


Changing Relationship of the University and the City

In 1967, however, the balance of power and mutual self-interest that had long governed the relationship between city planners, local business leaders, and the University of Dayton had shifted. Throughout much of its early history the University of Dayton had relied heavily upon the generosity of business leaders such as John Henry Patterson (1844-1922), the founder of the National Cash Register Company. In his lifetime Patterson had donated large parcels of land to the University helping it to grow and keep pace with rival institutions. Long after Patterson’s death the University was able to continue to turn to his company for donations. According to Coach Donoher, NCR executives played a crucial role as supporters of UD basketball. With Frericks, Donoher made annual visits to the NCR headquarters before each season to discuss the team’s prospects. Their hosts took it very seriously, preparing elaborate brochures to commemorate these visits. [35]

NCR executives sit for lunch with Coach Donoher in the “Horseshoe Room” at the corporate headquarters, “Donoher at the Horseshoe Room” Source: Don Donoher, November 17, 1967, Don Donoher Private Collection.

Donoher with NCR’s chief executive officers, “Donoher with NCR Chiefs” Source: Don Donoher, November 17, 1967, Don Donoher Private Collection.

By the time the University was contemplating the building of the arena, like elsewhere across the nation, the brick and mortar industries had entered decline. [36] As local historian Tom Dunham has argued, in Dayton “during the 1950s and 1960s, the companies failed to modernize and lost market share” to foreign competitors. [37] American manufacturers began to shut down operations and move production overseas. In Dayton, over the coming decade General Motors sold its plants and the Dayton Tire and Rubber Company closed, followed years later by even National Cash Register, which turned it back on its home city by moving headquarters to Atlanta.

Not surprisingly, as the importance of business contributions to the universities declined, so did the influence private enterprise had over the system of higher education nationwide. Educational funding, federal research grants, and growth of federally supported student populations more than compensated for the retreat of corporate sponsorship, developments that financed UD’s continued prosperity. In his book Building the Ivory Tower: Universities and Metropolitan Development in the Twentieth Century, historian of higher education LaDale C. Winling traces the history of this transition from private to public funding. By 1953, federal funding for research at UD already exceeded private funds by a considerable amount, and that would remain the case until 1978. “For UD,” said one historian of the University, “that pointed to one conclusion: the University needed Uncle Sam if it planned to grow.” [38]

In the post-war years two broader developments also influenced the story of the arena: the growing importance of educational institutions to urban development, and the countervailing tendency of these universities to think of themselves apart from local communities and behave accordingly. [39]