Amsterdam’s Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame has announced the stars of next spring’s induction ceremony, but there’s a catch: The ceremony will take place in Wichita Falls, Texas, the Hall of Fame’s soon-to-be new home.
After 10 years in Amsterdam and three in Schenectady before that, founder Tony Vellano said the Hall of Fame needs room to grow.
“We’re moving there because it’s just a better fit,” he said Friday. “It’s a bigger city, and they just have a lot more to offer and it was very affordable.”
The news broke suddenly Thursday on the Hall of Fame’s website after about 10 months of quiet planning.
“As far as Amsterdam is concerned, I’m grateful that they took us in when we left Schenectady,” Vellano said. “We’ve been there for 10 years and I’ve enjoyed every year of it, but it was time for the hall to grow.”
Vellano said the Hall of Fame, housed in a three-story corner building on East Main Street, will close at the end of November, then everything will be packed up and moved to Texas as quickly as possible.
The building will revert to the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency, from which Vellano had been leasing it, according to the city’s Director of Community and Economic Development Robert von Hasseln.
While he regrets the loss of the Hall of Fame, which brought thousands of people into the city each year for its induction ceremonies and other events, he said he’s confident the building will be put to good use with two or three storefronts opened up and possible apartments above.
“While I’m sorry to see them go, I’m not worried that this is going to have a bad impact on the future of Main Street,” von Hasseln said. “It’s more like they won’t be there to be a part of the future of Main Street.”
When the deal was announced Thursday, von Hasseln said it was too sudden for the city or AIDA to even try to tempt Vellano to stay.
“It was a done deal before I even learned about it,” he said.
The Hall of Fame has already signed a 10-year lease for a building in downtown Wichita Falls, and the University of Texas at Arlington has agreed to partner with the Hall of Fame to house its memorabilia and provide student interns to help archive it.
With the move, Vellano said he’ll be stepping away from the business and handing it over to a board of directors.
“I’m getting a little bit older,” said the 65-year-old. “I’ve been doing this for 16 years and it’s time for me to move on.”
The class of 2016 will feature Stone Cold Steve Austin, “the leading star of WWE’s Attitude Era,” who transcended the sport to become a pop culture figure, and Sgt. Slaughter, a wrestler in the AWA and WWF whose popularity led him to be made into a G.I. Joe character.
The Hall of Fame’s 15th induction ceremony will take place May 20-21 in Wichita Falls.
In Amsterdam, the annual spring induction ceremonies gave rise to the city’s Spring Fling, which has become a popular street festival. Last year, Vellano said 8,000 people showed up for the induction.
Just up Chuctanunda Road from the Hall of Fame is Emmy Lou’s Diner, where signed photos of all the wrestlers who have visited over the years adorn the walls.
Sherri Bardascini Crouse, whose family owns the diner, said the news has left them all “heartbroken.”
“People don’t realize that the Wrestling Hall of Fame was a small thing that put us on the map,” she said. “Tony brings a lot of people from out of town here that spend their money here and it’s a shame that they are moving to Texas. It’s made me sick.”