Hamilton held its State of the City event at the site of the coming Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill project on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. Attendees sat in a large room that will eventually be the lobby of the facility, officials said. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

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The approximately 550 viewers of Hamilton’s State of the City speeches got a preview Thursday of just how large Spooky Nook will be, as they heard presentations by Mayor Pat Moeller and City Manager Joshua Smith.

Their speeches were offered in the northernmost part of the former Champion Paper mill in the property west of B Street in a large structure much bigger than most buildings. The facility is scheduled to open in late 2021.

“This is the lobby” of the sports complex, Spooky Nook owner Sam Beiler told the audience.

The former Champion Paper mill building west of North B Street alone will be larger than the original Spooky Nook complex near Manheim, Pa., which now is North America’s largest complex. The Pennsylvania facility attracts 10,000 or more athletes and their families from a several-hour drive.

Across the street, the other former Champion building will contain Greater Cincinnati’s second-largest convention center, retail shops and restaurants, and a large hotel.

After the speeches, Beiler told this news outlet, “We expect to launch the full phase of construction certainly by the end of the year.”

Before then, the steel will arrive.

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“One of the first things will be the metal buildings. There will be three different buildings. It’ll all look like one,” Beiler added. “That’ll be one of the first things we do, because they want to get it covered so they can work inside throughout the rest of the winter.”

“They’re making great progress. They’ve really taken care of the early work, which was to clean it up and get it like this, where it’s safe to work in.”

Beiler later said he was not kidding that the very large area where the speeches were offered would be the lobby, although a child-care operation would occupy one corner, there also would be pro-shop retail space and there also would be concessions in the space.

“But it will be a very large, open area, so that when 500 people walk in, it’ll be like this — it still feels empty,” Beiler said in an interview afterward.

Both sides of the street together will have nearly 1.2 million square feet, he said.

Moeller and Smith in their talks mentioned many gains Hamilton has made in recent years, months and even days with new economic-development projects. Those included last week’s announcement that Fretboard Brewing & Public House would soon fill the former Quarter Barrel micro-brewery building at 103 Main St. and Thursday’s news that a Cincinnati group owning several restaurants plans to open Billy Yanks at 201 Main St.

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Moeller and Smith also spoke of Hamilton’s need to build up neighborhoods and stop some areas from regressing because of crime, blight and other problems. Moeller emphasized a need for job training and career-development programs.

Smith said Hamilton has received awards in recent years, “which is good external validation of what we’re doing, but we have issues in Hamilton.”

“Typically, the State of the City is more of a ‘Rah-rah, let’s get excited,’” Smith said. “I really wanted to be a little bit more honest and raw, this being the 10th (such speech he has given in Hamilton), about some of those issues.”

Hamilton is only as strong “as our weakest link,” he said. “And we know we can go into many of our neighborhoods, and they’re struggling. We have blight, we have roads that need to be improved, and we literally have blocks that are teetering right now as we try to stabilize some of the properties where you’ve had a lot of longtime Hamiltonians living that want to stay, and they’re questioning right now should they.”

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Hamilton recently created a Department of Neighborhoods to eliminate blight, because if the city doesn’t uplift struggling neighborhoods, “we will not be where we want to be 10 years from now,” Smith said.

The city must use “energy, persistence and grit” to conquer those challenges, he said.

Smith announced in the past seven years, Hamilton has seen $321 million growth in taxable payroll, which has meant an additional $6.4 million in tax revenues to the city’s general fund “that wasn’t (there) in 2012.”

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