Out-of-towners asking about business opportunities near Hamilton’s giant Spooky Nook project

Rather than Hamilton development officials trying to interest companies in the Butler County seat, numerous businesses have been approaching the city, wanting to know ways they might benefit from the gigantic Spooky Nook indoor sports complex and convention center, officials said.

“We have more in the pipeline today than at any point in the 8 1/2 years I’ve been here,” City Manager Joshua Smith recently told the Journal-News. “And the interest is very different than interest that was even here two or three years ago.”

That interest came to be after the October groundbreaking of Spooky Nook at Champion Mill, which is scheduled to open in mid-2021. It is to be about the size of the original Spooky Nook complex in Pennsylvania, which is described as “14 acres under one roof,” plus outdoor sports facilities as well.

Tom Vanderhorst, the city’s executive director of external services, said there has been a shift in the way economic-development staff now works.

“I would say the focus of economic development has changed from going out, looking for prospects, to just being able to handle all the prospects coming in,” Vanderhorst said. “I think that’s the take away from the Spooky Nook project.”

Smith recently told Hamilton City Council, “Typically, the first question that is asked is, ‘Where’s Spooky Nook at? What is the timeline? When is it opening?’

“Spooky Nook is driving, I would say, 75 percent of this interest.”

Here’s one example, offered by Dan Bates, president and CEO of the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce: One of the country’s top architects recently approached him and city officials about the possibilities.

“One of the major architectural firms in the United States, who I think should remain nameless, did reach out to me and has been to Hamilton,” Bates said. “They represent major hotel chains and major projects throughout the United States, and they are extremely interested in what’s happening here. And that would never have happened without the Spooky Nook sports complex.”

Jody Gunderson, Hamilton’s economic development director, agreed.

“We’ve got some pretty good traction as it relates to development,” he said. “There’s a lot of interest. People see a lot of opportunity for associated projects, with a big generator with the Nook, could be beneficial to something that they’re doing.

“It is gratifying, but like everything else, when you see the shovels in the ground, then seeing is believing. So I’ll get a little bit more excited when I see the projects start.”

One example of interest in Hamilton happened recently after the closure of the Quarter Barrel Brewery + Pub at 103 Main St., which has a rooftop dining are that overlooks the Great Miami River and downtown Hamilton. The CORE Fund (Consortium for Ongoing Reinvestment Efforts), which had renovated the building, received queries from about 30 businesses, and five submitted proposals to occupy the building. Three finalists, which officials are not naming, were chosen for further review.

“All three candidates … we would have been thrilled to have one of them three years ago, let alone three of them,” Smith said. “And there were other proposals they didn’t even interview that they said easily would have been a No. 1 proposal three years ago.”

Bates said some other Butler County communities have approached him, seeking to know how they might benefit from the expected overflow for hotels and other services that tens of thousands of people on some weekends will need as they visit the sports complex.

“The impact on Hamilton and the entire surrounding region is going to be much greater than anybody can imagine,” Bates said. “I guarantee you that.”

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