Only two residents spoke at Hamilton City Council’s public hearing Wednesday on the proposed Spooky Nook at Champion Mill gigantic indoor sports complex — one strongly in favor, the other seeking more information.
After three years of discussions and negotiations, the city and Spooky Nook Sports of Lancaster, Pa., plan to sign a development agreement — including a more than $26 million investment by Hamilton for loans, construction, utility and road improvements and more — that puts back into play one of the city’s most significant industrial complexes, the Champion paper mill along North B Street. The Butler County commissioners also have been asked to contribute, but have not yet decided.
The city hopes the development agreement will be approved during the Oct. 10 council meeting. If it’s approved, a groundbreaking ceremony will happen Oct. 25, with construction starting then and continuing through the winter, stepping up in the spring.
“They have targeted an opening date between the summer and fall of 2021,” City Manager Joshua Smith said.
Council Member Tim Naab and Mayor Pat Moeller strongly endorsed the project during Wednesday’s meeting.
Naab urged people to “embrace this — to look at this as an opportunity for Hamilton to reinvent itself again.”
Moeller called Spooky Nook a project “the entire state should be proud of” and a “textbook” economic development project.
All members of the council have visited Spooky Nook in Pennsylvania, according to Naab, who said, “it is an amazing edifice.”
“The courts, and fields, and if you will, the sports complex itself, serves over 80 teams at one time,” Naab said. “We saw 8,000 people in this sports complex when we were there — 8,000 people on a Saturday, that arrived anywhere from 6 to 8 in the morning, were dining there, shopping in the shops that support it, going to the (physical) therapy centers that are inside the complex.”
Noting that the facility filled 61,000 hotel rooms in Pennsylvania last year, Naab said Spooky Nook would boost fortunes for hotels not only in places like Liberty Center and across Butler County, but also places like Warren County and northern Hamilton County.
Spooky Nook pulls visitors from a 300-mile radius, according to Smith.
For Hamilton, such a radius would include Pittsburgh, Chicago, Knoxville, Nashville, Michigan and elsewhere, “so it’s going to have a very wide draw,” Smith said.
Such a facility in Hamilton would be “a once-in-a-lifetime venture” that will create demand for stores and restaurants in the Main Street, German Village and downtown areas, Naab said.
In 2017, the Pennsylvania facility’s fifth year, it had 1.1 million visitors, 470,000 from outside the immediate area, meaning they needed hotel or motel rooms. Spending by those people last year in the area outside Spooky Nook itself amounted to $40 million. That spending will help local stores, restaurants, hotels and other businesses, Smith said.
The Spooky Nook project, on the west bank of the Great Miami River along North B Street, is a 42-acre complex “with almost 1 million square feet of building under roof,” Smith said. The first phase will include a 200-room hotel, 230,000 square feet of conference space, several retail stores that face into the complex and outward toward B Street, restaurants, 500,000 square feet of indoor sports facilities, and about two acres of outdoor turf fields, and about 3,000 parking spaces.
The project’s first phase is to include the large mills located on either side of B Street, but does not include the boutique hotel, or what is called the “bunker building” along the hillside behind the project. Phase II also could include about 200,000 square feet of “flex space” between the river and B Street, south of the mills, that could become additional convention space.
Spooky Nook’s owner, Sam Beiler, is a former owner of Auntie Anne’s pretzels, the stores found in shopping malls and elsewhere, that sell soft pretzels and other items. Beiler in 2010 sold the company for what Naab described as “hundreds of millions of dollars,” and in 2013 he opened Spooky Nook Sports.
Naab said Beiler told him he was operating Spooky Nook despite the fact he never has to work again, because, “‘I’m tired of being retired — I want something for my family’” — he’s got a wife and kids who want this project to happen, he’s passionate, he is still a young man. He wants this to be as successful as Spooky Nook I in Manheim. He cannot do that without our help.”
Naab said the Hamilton facility will employ 100 full-time people, plus more than 400 part-timers.
Information was also shared at the meeting about about the project’s proposed Phase II, which would include, as first reported in the Journal-News, a boutique hotel in the former Champion Paper Mill’s office building along North B Street that faces the Black Street Bridge. Phase II also could include expansion of meeting spaces that in the first phase would create the region’s second largest convention space.