Impact of Hamilton sports center will be countywide, experts say

The former Champion Paper mill, once a symbol of Hamilton's industrial strength, is poised to again bring the city significant economic development — this time, in the form of a mammoth sports complex that can draw sports teams and their families and further contribute to the $35 million that such events are estimated to bring into Butler County's economy this year.

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Officials last week announced plans to start construction in early 2017 on the proposed "Spooky Nook at Champion Mill." Sam Beiler, founder of Spooky Nook Sports in the Lancaster, Pa., area, which claims to be the largest of its kind in the country, has said Hamilton's complex will be on the same scale. This year, the Pennsylvania facility is expected to draw 1 million visitors.

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“The local impact will be significant, especially during tournament weekends,” Hamilton City Manager Joshua Smith said. “Our hotel and the planned hotel (across the street from the sports complex) will be at capacity, restaurants/coffee shops/bars will be full, gas stations and other ancillary support uses should see a significant increase.”

Local schools and Miami University also will benefit “by having first-class space available for intramural activities, sporting events and sports training opportunities,” Smith added. And the county as a whole “will benefit due to the number of hotel rooms that will be required during tournament weekends, and the ability to host large conventions.”

Sporting events this year will bring an estimated $35 million into Butler County’s economy, according to Joshua Stephens, director of sports marketing and sales for the the Butler County Visitors Bureau.

Between sports events hosted by the visitors bureau and existing events supported by the organization, some 68 events on the 2016 sports calendar will attract an estimated 114,269 athletes and others to local tournaments.

Using the National Associations of Sports Commission Economic Impact Calculator, that works out to the $35 million impact, Stephens said.

Smith also said he foresees new residents moving to Hamilton because of the sports complex, which will be larger than 700,000 square feet, most of it indoors, but with at least one outdoor field and spaces for outdoor activities.

“I believe it will bring many new, permanent residents to Hamilton, due to families who have children that play sports or want to take advantage of specific sports training opportunities that will be offered,” Smith said. “I am most excited about how the complex can be utilized during the week and how that has the potential to assist many of our small businesses during times that otherwise may be slower for them.”

The city is working to transform Main Street in the area closest to the Great Miami River into an entertainment district that can host those sports families looking to let off steam after, or between, the big games.

Beiler last week told the Journal-News that he was confident the facility could be open by late 2018.

Primarily the facility will be a large sports complex with a fitness center and entertainment components, with a restaurant, hotel and bar across B Street.

“I think our draw on tournaments will extend 3½ hours drive-time,” Beiler said. “The mileage isn’t as important as the length of time, so as a straightaway highway, you’re going to reach out more miles, but back East, a 3½-hour radius from our property is very common, but we have many people coming from the other side of New York City, and that’s 4½ hours.”

“The draw is large for the youth tournaments — the large tournaments — people travel, and they travel far,” Beiler added. The business model is “recession-resistant,” he said, because families tend to continue traveling for their children’s tournaments even when the economy is bad.

“Families are deeply committed to youth sports, and it’s really become a part of their fabric, and we find in many cases they are wrapping their vacation into the tournament travel,” he added. “So we get what we call ‘bookends’ — they come a day early, they stay a day late, and the tournament may run the extent of the weekend.”

What made Spooky Nook want to locate in Hamilton?

Two things, Beiler said.

In spending time with city officials, “it was clear they had a different approach to redevelopment,” he said. “My confidence in Joshua and city administrators is very high. They recognize and appreciate that business is hard enough. Business is very challenging, and they view a part of their job to remove obstacles, not create them.”

The other factor was area demographics, he said.

“The overall household income here is very similar” to that of the Lancaster, Pa., area, said Beiler, whose company examined demographics within 15-, 30-, and 60 minutes of the facility. Also, “the household population is significantly higher, by 800,000 people within that hour, and the interest in participation at the youth sports level is very high.”

In researching the region’s demographics, Spooky Nook made many dozens of calls to various youth clubs to understand who they are, what they do and how many people are involved with each, he said, “because a part of what we want to do is provide a service option for the existing sports clubs in the area — additional training, space for training, especially indoor space.”

“In our research phase, it became clear,” he said. “I think we’d be very successful here.”

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