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The free Oregon District street festival that celebrated the start of the 2012 NCAA men's basketball tournament will not return this year.
Community resources and energy devoted to the event should go instead to projects that have a longer-lasting impact and increase the likelihood that Dayton will remain the home of March Madness' first games, organizers say.
When they canceled the 2013 festival last February due partly to issues involving the NCAA's corporate sponsors, officials from the First Four Local Organizing Committee
- a group branded publicly as The Big Hoopla - said they expected the free festival to return in 2014.
The 2012 festival - the only time the first four festival was held - cost an estimated $1.5 million in mostly donated goods and services, and attracted 15,000 people to the entertainment district.
Matt Farrell, a spokesman for the community-led group, said focus will be placed on the atmosphere and energy inside of University of Dayton Arena, the setting of the tournament's kickoff since 2001, instead of a one-day festival.
The NCAA has committed to keeping the first four games of the basketball tournament in Dayton through 2015.
"The most important goal of the committee is to secure the conference through the next bidding cycle," Farrell, a University of Dayton grad said.
In addition to the "First Four" college basketball tournament games, UD hosted the second and third rounds of the tournament last year. Farrell said all 10 games sold out, and the economic impact was $10.8 million.
He and other organizers said one doesn't have to be a sports fan to appreciate the first four games' presence in the community.
They say NCAA tournament games have had more than a $45 million local economic impact since 2001, helping hotels, restaurants, shops and other area businesses.
"Dayton is truly the epicenter of college basketball, and we have the opportunity to tell the world," Farrell said.
He said most resources come in the form of in-kind and financial donations from 55 community partners that range from Real Art Design Group to Cox Media Group Ohio, the parent company of the Dayton Daily News.
In both 2012 and 2013, Montgomery County chipped in $200,000 to the local organizing committee's effort.
Montgomery County Commissioners approved a resolution in December to fund $100,000 for the 2014 First Four events, county spokeswoman Cathy Peterson said via email.
"Each year, the NCAA First Four games generate an estimated $4 million ... for our region. The county's funding is an investment in an initiative that we hope to secure for our community for many years to come," Peterson said.
The city of Dayton will contribute $25,000 this year to the Big Hoopla event as it did last year and in 2012, according to city spokesman Tom Biedenharn.
Farrell said the Big Hoopla efforts revolve around demonstrating community excitement, education programs and filling seats at the arena. About 12,600 seats will be available for the First Four.
Farrell's committee has launched the Hoopla Ticket Program for the First Four games set for March 18 and 19 to support airmen stationed Wright Patterson Air Force Base and local students.
For every ticket the public buys through the website daytonhoopla.com/ tickets or Ticket Master between now and Jan. 30, the Hoopla Ticket Program will purchase three tickets for the airmen and students. After that date, the program will match tickets purchase by at least one for one.
The third annual Hoopla hot-shot challenge for kindergarten through eighth-grade students will return to Chaminade Julienne Catholic High School in Dayton. The school will also host the Hoopla STEM Education Event featuring special science, technology, engineering and mathematics exhibits. It is all about impact, Farrell said. "When the festival leaves, what are we leaving behind?" Farrell asked. "(With the Hoopla programs) we are reaching students and military people and thanking them for their contribution to the community."
Contact this reporter at 937-225-2384 or email Amelia. Robinson @cox inc.com.