The expected economic effect of a proposed massive sports and events center in Hamilton would create an economic boom that likely would reverberate not just through the city but many of its surrounding communities, officials say.
Spooky Nook Sports, which opened in 2013 near Lancaster, Pa., had a nearly $55 million economic impact, including $15.5 million in revenue and $39.2 million in off-site ancillary spending by Spooky Nook multi-day attendees in 2017, according to an economic impact summary prepared by Tourism Economics.
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From a numbers perspective, if Spooky Nook at Champion Mill is constructed between North B Street and the Great Miami River, it would be “the biggest driver of economic development in our region,” according to Dan Bates, president and CEO of the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce.
“The sports traffic generates tons of traffic, which will explode not just our town, but businesses and hotels and restaurants within a 25-mile radius,” said Bates, who in early March led a delegation to the Lancaster, Pa. area to gauge Spooky Nook’s economic impact. “There’s not enough of Hamilton to accommodate 10,000 visitors.”
While Spooky Nook at Champion Mill would be “a huge win” for Hamilton and grow the business community beyond High and Main streets, other Butler County communities are likely to see an enormous, if not greater, impact, Bates said.
Because people would be willing to drive hours just to reach such an attraction, a shorter drive to a restaurant, concert or other destination in Butler, Warren, Hamilton and Montgomery counties “is not a deterrent at all,” he said.
“They’re going to get all the same revenue that we’re getting (in Hamilton) without the investment, the cost, the risk,” he said. “With Spooky Nook what are we going to have, maybe 300 hotel rooms here in Hamilton? We’re going to need 3,000 or more.”
Butler County lacks major convention space and existing facilities here likely can host no more than 500 people at a time, he said. Spooky Nook, in contrast, is able to host an event for at least 1,200 people, he said.
Spooky Nook at Champion Mill would incorporate what was learned from the rapid and unexpected growth of the original location by including its own convention center and hotel from the get-go, he said.
Once Spooky Nook Sports’ hotel and other area lodging fills up, visitors are turning to the attraction to help them book rooms that are 45 minutes to an hour away, Bates said.
“If somebody is driving three to five hours to get there, another 30 or 40 minutes is no big deal,” Bates said.
Shawn Stidham, general manager of Courtyard by Marriott Hamilton, said he visited Spooky Nook Sports in Pennsylvania in December and “the operation is very impressive.”
“If they are able to replicate that success here, then it would be great in terms of bringing more people into the area and exposing them to the great things in Hamilton and Butler County as a whole,” Stidham said. “In my opinion, from a hotel standpoint, the most potential lies in their ability to host large conventions and tradeshows that could bring travelers during the week. We simply do not currently have a space like that in Butler County.”
Phill Adams, director of development at Fairfield’s Jungle Jim’s International, said based on the surge the store enjoys when sports tournaments come to area parks, he would expect to see “large numbers” from Spooky Nook, which he referred to as “a grand slam destination complex.”
“Volleyball, Basketball, Soccer, Lacrosse and other similar tournaments have down time between games,” he said. “Jungle Jim’s offers the break from the games. With the restaurants built into the our complex, they will have a variety of reasons to visit.”
But sports isn’t the only draw. Conventions, events and trade shows help fuel the attraction’s drawing and staying power, Bates said.
“It’s hard to fathom the impact,” Bates said. “Some of the hotels that are around there are around there because of Spooky Nook.”
Topgolf, a West Chester Twp.-based attraction, reached out to the chamber months ago following Bates’ first trip.
“I think they’re very smart,” he said. “They want to be prepared to do cross-marketing when they get here.”
Hamilton City Manager Joshua Smith said to have the largest indoor sports complex in North America located on the river in Hamilton would give “a tremendous boost” to the city.
“It will assist small businesses by bringing thousands of weekly customers, it will help Hamilton attract new businesses to service the crowds coming and it will take a critical part of our industrial history — the former Champion Paper — and adaptively reuse the buildings,” he said. “Otherwise the buildings would eventually be demolished and another piece of what made Hamilton an industrial superpower would disappear.
The complex not only helps city officials recruit more jobs to Hamilton, it also provides an added bonus — world-class facilities that can accommodate adult recreation ranging from indoor soccer to volleyball leagues to rock-climbing.”
If Spooky Nook at Champion Mill pans outs, Hamilton businesses, especially those along High Street and Main Street, are “going to have to change,” Bates said.
“They’re going to have to change their hours, they’re going to have to look at their business models, what their staffing looks like,” he said.
“If you have tons of traffic on the weekend, you’d be foolish to be closed on a Sunday.
“We have business owners saying ‘I’m never going to be open on Sunday.’ Well, you might have to be.”
In addition, area dining options, to ensure they don’t “miss the boat,” will have to ensure beforehand that there is enough food available to meet demand, said Laura Merrill, the chamber’s IT coordinator and organizational support.
“(We have to) get that mindset out to let people be aware this is a 10,000 people weekend, this is a 15,000 people weekend,” Merrill said. “Who’s got the accommodations for the different sizes and can accommodate a larger catering order or whatever it turns out to be?”
Rick Pearce, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Serving Middletown, Monroe and Hamilton, said the Middletown-Hamilton area has been hosting sporting events for decades, “but not to the degree they are talking of.”
He said Spooky Nook is “a game changer” for southwest Ohio and the catalyst that could propel the area to the top of the sporting event/convention pyramid.
“It will bring visitors from all corners of the nation and possibly the world and we have to be ready to give them the experience of a lifetime,” Pearce said. “It means more hotel rooms, restaurants, boutique shops and other businesses I can’t even think of.
“Not to mention, we have to develop a qualified workforce to service our guests. We should welcome the opportunity and identify ways to collaborate to assure this project succeeds.”