Hamilton leaders hope to be ‘full speed ahead’ on big projects by spring

Leaders of Hamilton have gigantic visions for 2021 and 2022 if the city can make it through this year’s first quarter without too much economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic.

“January, February and March are still unpredictable, but I think that when the weather turns nice in April, it’s going to be full speed ahead,” said Dan Bates, president and CEO of the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce.

“And at this point, none of the big projects, or construction projects, or any of that is being impacted by what’s going on in the economy or (COVID-19).”

Despite the economic headwinds caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Hamilton saw a steady flow of new development announcements during 2020, and officials expect that to continue this year, buoyed largely by the under-construction 1.3-million-square-foot Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill, which will be North America’s largest facility of its kind.

That facility, which will attract 10,000 or more athletes and their families to weekend tournaments from a several-hour drive, is scheduled to open in December, but it likely won’t be until 2022 that large crowds begin to appear. The facility also will include a convention center, one of the largest in the region.

“As we get closer and closer to the opening of Spooky Nook, I think the momentum is going to build,” Bates said. Currently, “a lot of things are happening on their own,” he said, “but when you add the Spooky Nook piece to that, and I think that when people see that that’s about to open, I think it’s going to be a very positive atmosphere here in Hamilton.”

“I think there’s a lot of uncertainty in the first quarter, but I think there’s a very, very bright light at the end of the tunnel,” Bates said.

City Manager Joshua Smith agreed with that.

“We have a lot of conversations on multiple properties happening right now, but I think everyone is in a holding pattern due to the pandemic, and I think the pandemic has tightened credit across the board,” Smith said. That has left some companies in a wait-and-see position.

“I’m hopeful that a lot of these conversations materialize into action,” Smith added. “We’ve spent a lot of time focusing on Lindenwald in our 2021-2022 planning discussions, and there’s been a lot of interest in the Lindenwald Business District area.”

Here are some other major themes to look for in 2021:

A bigger focus on neighborhoods, and working to fill empty business locations while also tearing down empty houses and commercial buildings that are ruining property values in their immediate areas.

“I believe the best government is the one that gets the least involved,” Smith said. “We don’t want to over-regulate, we don’t want to get into people’s businesses, but at the same time, when we have neighborhoods screaming about properties that are driving down values on certain streets or in certain neighborhoods, or things that are impacting people’s quality of life, that is the only time we want to step into something of that nature.”

“We’re trying to protect our first responders from negligence so they don’t get killed,” said Council Member Michael Ryan. “People don’t realize vacant property isn’t just vacant, it’s a hazard.”

Street repairs will start, thanks to voters’ slim approval in May of the city’s street-repair levy. The bills for that will show up on this year’s taxes. The city soon will announce which roadways will be paved this year. Funds from the levy will go into a specific city fund so voters can track exactly how the money was spent.

Plans for traffic improvements will continue, including work on traffic signals that can respond to snarls in real time. Mandatory studies for the proposed North Hamilton Crossing project of bridges above the Great Miami River and railroad crossings will continue to move ahead.

The first segment of the Beltline biking and walking trail will be finished, with others on the way.

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