It was seven years ago this weekend that Hamilton city officials stood on the roof of the original Spooky Nook facility in Lancaster, Penn., watching scores of cars pour into parking lots and hoping that could happen in Butler County.
There may not yet be the hundreds, or even thousands, of cars the Pennsylvania sports complex draws today, but Spooky Nook Sports at Champion Mill owner Sam Beiler believes it’s on its way.
Beiler updated Hamilton City Council earlier this week on the progress of the $165 million, 1.2 million-square-foot mega-sports and events complex that’s bisected by North B Street. They had begun hosting events at its sports complex in December and the Champion Mill Conference Center in May 2022, as well as booking rooms at the Warehouse Hotel.
From February to July, only counting weekend events, more than 345,000 people are expected to be at Spooky Nook Sports. This does not count the several dozens of people at the complex during the week, or activities happening at the conference center or hotel. He’s confident the events over the next six months will take place because organizers have already paid “a significant deposit.”
Last weekend, Beiler said, when they had more than 2,000 attend a one-day field hockey tournament, restaurants got a taste of the Spooky Nook impact.
“That's the biggest thing we can do as a restaurant community and a hospitality industry as a whole in the city of Hamilton is keep on talking to one another."
- Tyler McCleary, GM at Tano Bistro and a founding member of the Hamilton Amusement and Hospitality Association
Tano Bistro General Manager Tyler McCleary called last weekend “pretty solid” for the restaurant in a month that’s typically quiet.
“But if that little bit brought what we did last weekend, when we start getting 10,000 to 20,000 people in, we expect, or hope at least, full from open to close,” he said. “That’s the game plan, at least.”
Jim Goodman, co-owner of Municipal Brew Works, said as visitors increase, they’ll need to increase the hours of operations at their Spooky Nook tap room, the second location for the Hamilton-based brewery.
“Things are definitely ramping up and this is just the beginning,” said Goodman. “We expect the foot traffic will increase as more amenities open, more weekend tournaments take place, and the convention center starts pulling in people during the business week.”
Goodman expects he’ll need to increase the hours at the Spooky Nook taproom, which has limited hours currently, and as other businesses come online at the complex, Municipal Brew Works will need “full-time hours” for its second location. He said he’s in constant communication with Lisa Disbro, Corporate Director of Hospitality Operations at Spooky Nook Sports, and her staff, “looking to complement each other by adapting our hours of operation to times when we know the place will be buzzing.”
Beiler called the field hockey tournament “a pretty small event,” but it still led to significant lines and waits at restaurants throughout Hamilton.
“So I think the big part of the economic development of Spooky Nook Sports will be realized, and it’s going to be realized quicker than we expect, maybe,” he said, adding that January will be “a little bit slower than I would have liked,” February will see a couple of sizable events drawing thousands of people.
The first weekend in February is expected to draw around 4,000 people with the Champion Mill Futsal Classic, a Special Olympics event, and another one-day field hockey tournament.
The largest Spooky Nook Event until July is a basketball event on March 4 and 5 that will see more than 22,000, Beiler said. He said it would be that weekend that “will probably be our first largest weekend ― we’re going to have to manage traffic coming into town ― and I don’t know what to tell people about restaurants. If last weekend , 2,200 people filled restaurants like it did, we’ll see people traveling further for restaurants or waiting longer.”
... [T]he economic development of Spooky Nook Sports will be realized, and it's going to be realized quicker than we expect ...
- Sam Beiler, owner of Spooky Nook at Champion Mill
Beiler said over the next two or three months, businesses and residents around Hamilton “will begin to understand” how Spooky Nook will impact traffic, restaurants and other businesses.
“Our goal is to fill the restaurants, and apologies to locals who might have to wait longer than they’re accustomed to, but ultimately, that’s a significant part of the project, is driving the economic development throughout the city on an ongoing basis.”
McCleary said as Spooky Nook begins to host more and bigger events, the Hamilton Amusement and Hospitality Association (HAHA) will be a resource for any businesses in the city.
“That’s the biggest thing we can do as a restaurant community and a hospitality industry as a whole in the city of Hamilton is keep on talking to one another,” said McCleary, a founding member of HAHA with Goodman and others within the city.
For those worried or at a loss about what to do with potentially more business than an owner can handle, McCleary said, “Let’s get together as a group and game plan. We’ve taken on a lot. As a community, the restaurant industry got through a pandemic. That was a really, really hard time. We can do anything from here as long as we work together.”
Just counting weekend events at the sports complex on the east side of North B Street, 28 planned events.
These include a couple of recruiting weekends in April and May, which is “when you see the most serious athletes, highest performing high school athletes.” Beiler’s estimates show he expects more than 50,000 people collectively at Spooky Nook over the last two weekends in April and the last weekend in May.
“We’re pretty happy with those numbers for the first of the year,” he said of the six-month calendar of weekend events. “Some of the organizers are people we worked with in Pennsylvania, others have a history in the Midwest, so we’re very confident in their ability to deliver these events.”
Mayor Pat Moeller noted they are expecting “a lot of March through July basketball madness going on. That’s a lot of basketball, a lot of teams visiting our city. It’s absolutely amazing.”
Council member Susan Vaughn asked Beiler if they knew where people headed to Spooky Nook would be traveling from. He said they wouldn’t know in advance of the events.
“As we approach that first large one (in March), we’ll pursue that so we can take at least a guestimate of what direction they’ll be coming from, and which traffic lights should stay green a little bit longer.”
The Journal-News has covered the growth of Spooky Nook Sports at Champion Mill since its inception. Read all about the mega-complex at journal-news.com.