New Butler County convention center will be major part of Spooky Nook project

Local government and tourism officials have expressed a lot of enthusiasm about the indoor sports complex aspect of Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill, which is now rising in the former Champion Paper mill west of the Great Miami River.

They also see big things for the convention center that will be part of the development but don’t yet have estimates for how much of an impact the meeting space and entertainment venue can have for Hamilton and Butler County.

That’s because the convention center at the existing Spooky Nook facility near Lancaster, Pa., which has been operating since June 2013, was almost an afterthought. For the Spooky Nook facility in Hamilton, which will include North America’s largest indoor sports complex, owner Sam Beiler had bigger plans.

“It’s not a local neighborhood convention center,” Beiler said in a recent interview. “I mean, it’s going to be a significant driver of convention business into this area.”

Mark Hecquet, the president and CEO of the Butler County Visitors Bureau, said the new Spooky Nook convention center will be “an incredible addition” to the Butler County tourism community.

Hecquet said it is important for Butler County to continue to bring in and develop future travel demand generators to keep the tourism industry and surrounding businesses vibrant and successful. He said Spooky Nook is an important piece of the development puzzle for several reasons.

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“The convention center will have, by far, the largest amount of meeting space in Butler County and will be the second largest in our region,” Hecquet said. “This will provide an unlimited number of new opportunities to attract new and larger groups, meetings (and) associations that we have never previously been able to host.”

The redevelopment of the site reinvigorates an underutilized area near a crucial urban center. That, he said, promotes walkability and important pedestrian density for surrounding businesses.

Additionally, the convention center is “an important differentiator” as Butler County competes against other communities for future event business, Hecquet said.

“We have already seen a huge interest amongst potential groups who are very interested in hosting their events at Spooky Nook,” he said.

A big difference

There’s a big difference between the convention center in Pennsylvania and the one under construction in Hamilton, Beiler said.

“The primary difference between the locations in Pennsylvania and here is that we’ll have a full-on convention center on the river, here along B Street,” he said.

“In Pennsylvania, we have a significant demand for space — meetings and events — and we’re able to meet some of that, but we learned that there’s a much greater demand than what we have space for. So out here we designed several hundred thousand square feet more for the business meetings and events.”

The Pennsylvania center has a few meeting rooms and a large gathering area that can seat 1,000 people.

The Hamilton convention center part of the project, located between North B Street and the Great Miami River, by comparison, will have 400,000 to 500,000 square feet of space. Plus, in the sports-complex side, west of North B Street, there will be another 90,000 square feet of “flexible space,” unimpeded by columns. For part of the year, at least on weekends, that space will be filled with 50 volleyball courts that can be disassembled to make way for other events.

Due to the size and flexibility of the convention center, opportunities will be “endless” for local residents, Hecquet said.

“From weddings, reunions, parties, consumer trade shows, banquets, events, dinners, the convention center will provide a whole host of local event options,” he said. “Additionally, the influx of visitors to the area will help bring in additional local options for dining, shopping, and recreation that would not exist otherwise without the visitor base.”

As part of arrangements with the school district, Hamilton High School with host proms there.

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Beiler is encouraged by the number of large corporations in the region that could be interested in hosting events in Hamilton.

City officials are confident that between sports events that can draw 10,000 to 20,000 athletes and their families from several hours’ drives away and the convention business during the week, Spooky Nook will significantly boost the fortunes of businesses across the city. The Spooky Nook facility in Pennsylvania routinely fills hotels located 45 minutes away, Beiler said.

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