Many in the crowd of more than 200 Thursday who gathered to celebrate approval of the Spooky Nook at Champion Mill had a sense they were part of history — putting the former Champion Paper mill back into play, this time as a gigantic indoor sports complex and Greater Cincinnati’s second-largest convention center.
After Hamilton City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved development agreements for Spooky Nook, people had used the words “monumental” and “historic.”
Butler County Visitors Bureau executive director Mark Hecquet added the word “transformational” during Thursday’s celebration and project groundbreaking.
“Yes, this project will transform the city of Hamilton,” he told a crowd of more than 200. “It will transform the entire Butler County, but it will actually transform an industry — it will transform our travel and tourism industry in Butler County,” Hecquet said.
He said new restaurants and entertainment venues will follow the project to serve the estimated 1 million people per year expected to visit, as they do the existing Spooky Nook complex near Manheim, Pa.
The former paper mill’s transformation should be evident in two weeks, Spooky Nook founder and owner Sam Beiler told the Journal-News. That’s when work crews will begin removing the bricks that cover many of the large windows at Champion’s historic “Mill II,” the building closest to the Great Miami River. That will let light stream in to the building.
“You’ll start seeing those windows opening within a couple weeks, I think,” Beiler said.
“Our economy is going to boom,” predicted Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Dan Bates, who predicted in 50 to 60 years, people will still be looking at photos of Thursday’s grand opening.
Carol Lucio, a Hamilton native now living in Cincinnati’s Mount Airy neighborhood, said she was working in the area Thursday and went to the groundbreaking because, “It’s a historic moment.”
“Born and raised in Hamilton with the desire to leave and never come back, it’s exciting to see the things that are going on now and the transformation that’s taking place, so I had to be here for this,” Lucio said.
“I think it’s going to give a lot of things for families in this region to be able to do,” Lucio said. “I just see nothing but positives.”
Hamilton Mayor Pat Moeller praised “Two groups with motivated, creative, knock-the-wall-down-if-it’s-in-the-way leaders really accomplished this success. First, obviously, Sam Beiler, with his great vision of what this old mill could become.”
Moeller also praised City Manager Joshua Smith and his team for dogged work to make the project reality.
The former Champion Paper mill now is “a corridor of blight and broken windows,” Moeller said. “In two years, the same corridor will have lights on, bustling with athletic activity and business activity. The reuse and revitalization of the old mill begins now.”
Spooky Nook should open in summer or fall of 2021.
Hecquet thanked city council, saying it took courage “to really make a step like this,” including the investment of $26 million in the $144 million project. Much of that will be repaid using Spooky Nook revenues, or through utility payments the complex will make in future years that will repay the $5.9 million in utility funds that will be spent to make connections to the facility.
“I can tell you, there are so many groups already now, around the country — and not only the country, the world — that are now looking at Hamilton. Audiences that would never have ever looked at Hamilton, look to our county, who are ready to commit to come here,” Hecquet added, noting the convention center that will be part of the project will draw business people for meetings from near and far.
“When I started traveling out here three years ago, I did not expect it to take three years to get to today,” Beiler told the Journal-News. “But today is a dynamic day, and we’re very excited to take the next steps.”
Bill Herren, owner of Main Street Vinyl, said it was important to him to attend the ceremony because Spooky Nook is “a big deal.”
“It’s been a while coming and it’s finally here, and I wanted to be a part of it, so to speak,” he said.
Herren said it is “hard to imagine” the impact Spooky Nook at Champion Mill is going to have on Hamilton and the surrounding area.
“I think our business will probably double, at least, when it’s all done and over with and you get people coming into the city and out shopping at different (places),” he said. “I think it will impact all of the businesses.”
Staff writer Eric Schwartzberg contributed to this report.