By now, almost everyone in Hamilton knows the estimate that the gigantic Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill indoor sports complex will attract 10,000 to 20,000 athletes and their families on some weekends.
Officials also say the project that will be North America’s largest indoor sports facility will help the 62,000-plus living in the city, or the other 321,000 living in Butler County.
The fitness center in the original Spooky Nook facility near Lancaster, Pa., is a significant part of operations there, and has about 5,000 members, said company founder Sam Beiler. It and other parts of the 700,000-square-foot sports complex will be available to local residents, leagues and teams, particularly from Monday through Friday, when the large tournaments are not playing on weekends.
Beiler said one thing he learned after creating what is now North America’s largest indoor sports complex — he calls it “just about 14 acres under one roof” — from an immense former flooring-products warehouse was how important the fitness center could be.
The fitness center “has almost tripled in size since we opened,” Beiler said. Another thing he learned during nearly seven years of Pennsylvania operations is that the fitness-center members “don’t like to cross over the tournament traffic, so out here we’ve designed a private parking lot, as we did back in Pennsylvania, but that was all redone.”
The existing Spooky Nook has a 200-meter track, fitness and weight-lifting areas, and hosts dozens of fitness classes every week.
Local sports teams and leagues will be invited to train, practice, improve their techniques and play games in the facility. And they will be able to afford to do so, Beiler said.
“We have to be competitive, so all of our pricing will be competitive,” Beiler said. “And I think what will become clear over time is Monday through Friday is primarily local business. So local youth sports, academy teams, leagues and those kinds of things. “
Spooky Nook will welcome athletes in middle school, high school and adults, he said.
“Friday night or Saturday morning is when the tournament crowds start coming in, and they’ll populate the place over the weekend, and by Monday, we’re back to the more local business again.”
Miami University intramural sports may have a place at Spooky Nook as well, and the university’s students may find work related to their fields of study there.
“They’ve identified a need for indoor intramural sports space,” Beiler said. “They don’t have it on campus, and there’s nothing in that area. So we know that’s an area we can work together.”
Also, “We believe that their sports-degree programs will provide a steady stream of employees, possibly in internships, possibly in long-term employment after that. So there’s a really good mix of what they’re trying to train people, and what we need people for. I think those things will fold together very nicely.”
Interesting events, Beiler said, will come to the convention center, which will be one of Greater Cincinnati’s largest, and will operated largely on weekdays, using the 400,000-plus-square-foot part of the former Champion Paper mill between the Great Miami River and North B Street, plus a significant part of the sport complex’s flexible space.
“We have several that are committed, but we haven’t signed the contract yet,” Beiler said this week during an event to show off progress on the facility, which he said is on track for a December, 2021 opening. “They’re significant events. They’ll be unusual for the city. It’ll be pretty interesting. In fact, two are not even sports.”
Officials anticipate such things as musical events, university gatherings of academics for conferences, trade-association gatherings, and business conventions sponsored or attended by some of the Fortune 500 companies in the region.
As part of an agreement with the Hamilton City Schools, Spooky Nook a few years ago agreed to host Hamilton High School proms there.
On-site restaurants and shops will be accessible to local restaurants without the local drivers getting tangled up with sports-tournament traffic. Company officials said in addition to the food-court-style eateries that will mainly serve the sports complex and convention center, there will be space for four to five restaurants, and four or five shops.
“A unique, creative food or retail, that’s what we’re interested in,” said Beiler, who this week met with some possibilities, and is looking for others. He offered the example “experiential” shops, such as one where people can paint their own ceramics, not only to serve Butler County at large, but also athletes and their families who have 90 minutes to spare between games.
Other Hamilton shops and restaurants will benefit from overflow from the many visitors, he said, one reason officials are working on creating a transportation loop that carries the visitors to the Main Street business corridor, Hamilton’s downtown, back through German Village and across the Black Street Bridge.
“A lot of those things have to be worked out yet, but we are as committed as we’ve ever been to making sure that what we do here benefits the businesses in Hamilton and the surrounding areas as well,” Beiler said.
Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Dan Bates visited the Pennsylvania complex several years ago with city officials and said the complex, which was on pace for a record year before the coronavirus shut it down and which Beiler said still will have a good year, will be successful here, as it is there.
“What has happened in Lancaster is it has continued to grow and evolve, add new services, adjust when something became less popular and replace it with something that’s more popular,” Bates said. “So they have proven they have a model that works.”
“I don’t even know if I can express how exciting this is,” Bates said.
Eric Schwartzberg contributed.
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