Conventions at Hamilton’s coming Spooky Nook project will be bigger than first planned

When Sam Beiler first envisioned what will be the immense Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill indoor sports complex in Hamilton, a convention center was not a significant part of what he saw.

That has changed, in a big way.

Under the new business model for the proposed $144 million facility that will open in late 2021, conventions will be important, particularly because Beiler’s company realized how many Fortune 500 companies and their subsidiaries are in the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana region.

Spooky Nook’s convention space will be the second largest in Greater Cincinnati, behind only the Duke Energy Convention center. It will have 20 meeting spaces, capable of accommodating 1,000-person dinners to 12-person board meetings.

The Butler County Visitors Bureau and sales staffers in Pennsylvania who work at the original Spooky Nook sports complex there (near Lancaster) are working, with some success already, to find both conventions and sports events for the complex that is nearly two years from opening.

The visitors bureau already has brought two organizations to the table “that would meet our July of 2022 budget on the convention center — that means our sales goals would have been hit with these two events that will come,” Beiler told this media outlet.

It’s a bit too early for those contracts to be signed, because things like hotel rates and other aspects have yet to be signed for the complex that will contain about 1.2 million square feet, officials said.

The Spooky Nook facility in Pennsylvania also has been evolving to include more convention-type events.

“My first visit out here, we had only been open about two years, back east,” Beiler said. “And the sports business was growing very nicely, but our weekdays were still too slow — weekday evenings,” Beiler said. “We have a thousand kids in sports academies of one sort or another. So there’s always people coming through.”

But that wasn’t enough to keep the Pennsylvania complex and its employees fully occupied, he said.

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“So we started focusing on business events, banquets and dinners — awards-type dinners and that kind of thing,” he said. “That part really started growing. A year and a half later, we were out here planning, and I’m saying, ‘Wait. We need a lot more event space.’

“And then we did the demographic and the corporate research on what’s out here. Well, within an hour, say, hour and a half, the number of Fortune 500 companies is crazy.”

Greater Cincinnati alone had eight companies on the Fortune 5oo list: Kroger, Procter & Gamble, Macy’s, Fifth Third bank, Western & Southern Financial, American Financial Group, AK Steel and Cintas. Ohio as a whole had 24 on the list this year. Kentucky had two on the list: Humana and Yum Brands. Indiana had eight, led by Anthem and Eli Lilly.

Revenues from conventions may not eclipse those from sporting events, which may attract 10,000 or more athletes and their families for tournaments on some weekends, but they will be a critical part of Spooky Nook operations.

That will be good news for Hamilton restaurants, bars and shops that could use customers through the week.

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Mark Hecquet, president and CEO of the visitors bureau, confirmed that when rates are established, two groups for July 2022, will be close to signing contracts.

“We have locked down one group for sure that is full-on, ready to sign at this moment, and another that is very highly interested.”

One of them is a week-long convention that will need about 1,500 room-nights, completely selling out Spooky Nook’s 236-room hotel, and probably part of the Courtyard by Marriott in Hamilton, he said. The other is a bit larger, a sporting event, but about the same number of room-nights.

“Once the word gets out, we’ll be able to start bringing in these big pieces of business that will be bringing in thousands of visitors,” he said.

“There is a demand for large-scale meeting space in the region,” Hequet said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

Dan Bates, president and CEO of the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, said Sharonville’s convention center “is never empty,” demonstrating the demand for such space.

Companies often find convention centers in smaller cities are often easier to work with those in major cities, Bates said, so costs can be lower. So companies based in Philadelphia like to have conventions at Spooky Nook nearby, he said. Miami University also may be able to draw conventions to Spooky Nook.

City Manager Joshua Smith said Spooky Nook will boost Hamilton businesses.

“Having the second-most convention space in Greater Cincinnati will certainly be a weekday benefit to our small businesses,” Smith said. “I am excited to see how they program entertainment options around the sports complex, convention space and hotel, because it has such potential to catalyze our community in many ways.”

Hecquet said the facility should be an easy sell for corporate, medical and other gatherings, especially after people become familiar with it, and how it is different from competing venues.

Also, “We’re sandwiched between two metropolitan areas, Cincinnati and Dayton,” making it convenient for many companies to visit Hamilton, Hecquet noted. “Obviously, location, location, location.”

Also, some convention groups may be interested in the sports-facility’s offerings, for team-building, after-hours activities or other reasons. Many sports groups may want to have conventions there, Hecquet said.

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Cincinnati-area Fortune 500 firms

Here are the Greater Cincinnati Fortune 500 companies:

20. Kroger

45. Procter & Gamble

118. Macy’s

384. Fifth Third

421. Western & Southern Financial

427. American Financial Group

443. AK Steel

459. Cintas

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