Schenectady Gazette – February 16, 2001
By Bill Buell
The Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame is going to become a reality, according to Tony Vellano, and its home will be in Schenectady.
Vellano, a Schenectady native and Rotterdam resident who sits on the board of directors for the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, just east of Syracuse, first proposed the idea for a professional wrestling museum in May of last year. If things go as expected, he hopes to hold the inaugural induction ceremony sometime in May of 2002 at a site in downtown Schenectady.
“It’s going to happen, and I’ve been getting a great reaction from the wrestlers and from just about everybody,” said Vellano, the owner of Vellano Bros Inc., a construction supply company. “I have enough people behind me to pull this off.”
The Hall of Fame will open sometime before the inaugural induction ceremonies, probably early next year according to Vellano, and an introductory fund-raising event will be held this April 7 at Glen Sanders Mansion in Scotia. Among the guests on hand will be George (The Animal) Steele and Walter (Killer) Kowalski, two of the sport’s biggest names.
“I’ve got my board of directors, I got the logo and the copyright all set, and we’ve already registered as a 501-C3 nonprofit group,” said Vellano. “I wanted to make sure I had all of that stuff intact before I announced the introductory dinner. But now we’re ready to go ahead.”
Mayor Al Jurczynski said he’s all for making Schenectady the home of the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. “I believe it will be an attraction, and any responsible activity that draws people to downtown is good,” said Jurczynski. “I will be as supportive as I can be, and I think it’s wonderful news for the city and the whole region.”
Though the site isn’t definite yet, Vellano expects the wrestling Hall of Fame to be housed in the Center City Facility. The city will charge rent, but Vellano doesn’t expect any trouble making payments.
“When they get a professional wrestling show at Pepsi Arena, they get 15,000 people,” said Vellano. “If we get a third of that the first weekend we open, and I think that’s a low estimate, we’ll be doing fine. We’ll be bringing in revenue to the city and the community, and I think that’s a great thing.” Vellano has the backing of World Championship Wrestling and Eastern Championship Wrestling, two of the game’s current governing bodies, but the World Wrestling Federation has yet to join the fold.
“The WCW has already sent me a replica of its heavyweight championship belt, and given the OK for Jimmy Hart and Billy Silverman to come to our introductory dinner,” said Vellano. “I think the WWF is taking a wait-and-see attitude right now, but I have enough of the old superstars really excited about this, so I’m hoping the WWF will join us once they see that we’ve got this off the ground.”
Vellano began his involvement with professional boxing and wrestling more than 20 years ago when he became an inspector for the state Athletic Commission.
In 1988 he helped raise funds to open the International Boxing Hall of Fame in central New York, and was named to that group’s Board of Directors in 1998. He still serves on the state Athletic Commission and is also an inspector for the Oneida Indian Athletic Commission.
“I’ve heard the wrestlers talking about this for 20 years,” said Vellano, who may also get another big name, King Kong Bundy, at his April event at Glen Sanders.
“They’ve convinced me that they want it, and right now I’ve got more guys than I can handle that want to come to our dinner. I started all the talk, and now it was time to sink or swim. I knew the city was looking for an attraction and I think this is it.”