Development across river from Spooky Nook Sports will see move of Cohen Recycling to new location

Spooky Nook, other projects put city over the top with big Ohio developer.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

When Crawford Hoying announced it would purchase the Cohen Recycling plant in Hamilton earlier this year, heads turned.

That’s what happens when one of the state’s top developers — owners of high-profile properties in Columbus, Dublin, Dayton and Cincinnati — shows interest in developing in a community. Matt Starr, the executive vice president of Commercial Real Estate and Leasing for Crawford Hoying, told Hamilton City Council the primary reason they were investing at least $150 million into the 17.7-acre soon-to-be-former recycling plant site was Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill.

“We probably wouldn’t be here today if not for some of the things already happening in the city and specifically Spooky Nook. That’s probably something that really put this opportunity over the top for us. Obviously, the city made a major commitment there,” Starr said.

Crawford Hoying is set to close the sale on Aug. 9, but they’ll give Cohen Recycling until the end of the year to transition from their 17.7-acre site at Black Street and North 3rd Street to a nearly 3.5-acre site less than a half-mile north on North 3rd Street.

It was in 2015 when Crawford Hoying was first contacted about opportunities in Hamilton, but it wasn’t until April 2021, that the Cohen Recycling plant sale was first discussed, and though it took two years, Starr said it’s just the beginning.

“Unique opportunities like this are very exciting to us,” he said. “We hope the Cohen site is just the start. Good growth happens organically. We cannot force it. We are in a challenging marketing environment today. If we do what we do right, it should grow and radiate out from there.”

While growth can be expected to branch from the Crawford Hoying development, that project is only, as Starr said, because of the $165 million mega sports and events complex Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill.

New small businesses have either started or expanded in the city’s urban core, which spans from downtown to the Main Street business district, because of Spooky Nook, a development that still has its fair share of naysayers despite tens of thousands of people coming to Hamilton during a several week-stretch from late spring and through mid-summer.

No surprise to some

Spooky Nook spokeswoman Mackenzie Bender said they’re not surprised by the development.

“As we’ve seen the enormous economic impact of this business model in Pennsylvania for the last 10 years,” she said of the original Spooky Nook project. “It’s exciting to watch the community around Spooky Nook Champion Mill grow along with us. Our goal has always been to support the local economy by bringing a wave of new people and businesses into the area.”

The facility will continue to push forward with all of the amenities yet to open at Champion Mill, including the Hydraulic Bar and Forklift & Palate Restaurant.

Hamilton Executive Director of External Services Tom Vanderhorst said they understand people will have their opinions, but the city’s focus is to continue the momentum Spooky Nook has generated, and the momentum expected from the Crawford Hoying project that will start in earnest in January.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

In the 1990s, Chattanooga, Tenn., had a similar experience with a contingent of long-time residents doubting the success of the Tennessee Aquarium, a project, like Spooky Nook, that was a development in their downtown on a former brownfield site.

“The longtime residents called it the fishbowl and were critical of it, saying it was a boondoggle and destined for failure,” Vanderhorst said. “Comments from their city leaders during our visit were that they needed to stay the course and be committed to the project.”

Now the Tennessee Aquarium is a top destination for all of Tennessee. While Spooky Nook may or may not be a top destination, it is considered a transformational project for the city.

Hubs of activities

Hamilton Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Dan Bates said, eventually, there will be hubs of activities, and development is not going to be along the main corridor through Hamilton.

“I think what’s going to happen is that it’s not all going to be on High and Main streets,” he said. “As one area fills up, I think it’s going to create a new one.”

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

And hubs will be in unexpected areas, because, he said, who would have thought a center or hub of activity is going to be at Cohen Recycling?

“There’s a lot of opportunity coming, and I think even with North Hamilton Crossing and everything that’s going to change some traffic patterns, that will create new opportunities.

There is development on Ohio 4 and Grand Boulevard with the new Third Eye Brewing project, which should open later this year. But the city will see a lot of activity around the Maple Avenue corridor.

City Council created a committee of council members and staff to help identify a desired user for the former CSX train depot that was relocated in December 2022 and January 2023 to the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Maple Avenue.

And now, the freight station at 770 Maple Ave., which was purchased by Meyer Brothers and Sons for a new headquarters, is under redevelopment.

“This will be an amazing transformation and will be a great project that will accentuate the train depot that was relocated,” Vanderhorst said of the Meyer Brothers project. “Amp House Brewing is also continuing to work through their project planning at the old electric substation at 514 Maple, and I would expect their project to begin before the end of the year.”

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

‘Wow, this is cool’

First Financial Bank CEO Archie Brown started his banking career in 1984 in downtown Hamilton. Though he had left the city as his banking career developed, he returned as CEO five years ago and spends about 10% of his time in the city. He said he loves seeing the new growth.

“I know (the city) went through some phases where some companies left and certainly in the last decade there’s been a resurgence,” he said.

He was driving down Main Street a couple of weeks ago to visit one of the bank’s branches, and he recalled as he looked around saying, “Wow, this is cool.”

“To me it’s fun to see such cool activity happening, and we (First Financial) want to be a part of that,” he said.

While Spooky Nook wasn’t the driver for CMC Properties to build the Marcum Apartments in downtown Hamilton, property manager Pete Montgomery said the growth because of it is a reason why they’re investing millions more into the Rossville Flats project.

A lot of credit goes to City Manager Joshua Smith and his team, Montgomery said.

“They are willing to do whatever it takes to get people to invest here, to look at Hamilton in a different limelight, and to get the word out to as many people as possible.”

But before Spooky Nook was more than just a development idea, Montgomery said they took a chance to invest in the city. That project helped attract new businesses along Riverfront Drive, bringing Tano Bistro and The Casual Pint to the Marcum building. And eventually, when the park was developed, and more businesses started to move in, the nightlife picked up.

“Everybody started saying to us, ‘Hey, we’re doing great numbers here.’”

Reputation rehabilitated

The reputation of Hamilton started to change.

Now, CMC Properties will open its second multi-million-dollar investment in Hamilton with Rossville Flats.

“It’s a beautiful city,” he said of a reason why people are attracted to Hamilton. “It’s one of the original downtowns still left in the country.”

And Montgomery said if someone is debating on investing in Hamilton, he suggest the time is now.

“It’s like a modern-day kind of Gold Rush and in my mind,” he said. “You’re getting the best of both worlds. You still got that city feel, but you’re still living across the street from some of the hottest restaurants and bars that are coming.”

Vanderhorst said this Gold Rush is because of relationships.

“Without the nurturing of relationships with developers, the school board and especially the relationships among the City Council and staff, these projects don’t happen,” he said, which includes three new hotels. “(City Manager) Joshua (Smith) spends a tremendous amount of time building and nurturing those key relationships, and it has paid off.”

Those relationships will bring Hamilton’s hotel count to five in the next couple of years. The city had just one just a few years ago.

Development in Hamilton is now in its domino effect phase, where a chain reaction of interest is compounding with each new announced project. It’s because people want to be part of the city now, Bates said.

“People want to be part of a winner, and Hamilton’s a winner right now,” said Bates. “It’s no longer an iffy bet. It’s a good bet.”

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