Spooky Nook at Champion Mill doesn’t open until 2021, but Hamilton’s government officials, business owners and non-profit leaders are already taking steps to prepare for its impact.
That comes on the heels of a mid-March visit to its Pennsylvania predecessor, a 700,000-square-foot behemoth that is the largest indoor sports facility in North America, regularly drawing visitors from several hours away. Hamilton’s version would be on the same scale, but with a convention center in the heart of the city.
That means the ability to serve out-of-town teams and families for sports tournaments, provide training for area sports teams, fitness facilities for local residents and meeting space for businesses and other entities.
The Pennsylvania trip was an eye-opener to many, including Petals & Wicks owner Sherry Hoskins, who said she was impressed by its size and drawing power, which should boost foot traffic and increase jobs in Hamilton and the region, she said.
Hoskins believes so much in the power of Spooky Nook that she recently doubled the size of Petals & Wicks. The Main Street business also will remodel by summer, adding another full candle bar to maximize seating capacity.
“We know it’s two years away, however, we need to start preparing now, we feel, so that we can get our staff prepared and start tweaking things and be ready whenever the visitors do start coming in,” she said.
Ross Twp. Administrator Bob Bass and Trustee Tom Willsey said they traveled to the “humongous” sports complex to gauge its impact on the township.
Both said the facility could be a blessing and a curse.
Of the size and scope of the Pennsylvania complex, Willsey said, “you have to see it to believe it.” He said trustees are examining ways they can prepare for the influx of visitors and traffic running through his township eight miles away that could be overwhelming on its roads, police, fire and residents.
Expending township tax dollars, he said, is not an option.
“I certainly don’t want to raise local taxes to support an effort in another community,” Willsey said. “That’s not our goal at all, it’s to minimize the impact on our residents.”
The visit was enlightening for Bass, who was impressed by how Spooky Nook Sports has transformed nearby Lancaster. He said he believes the success there could be duplicated here.
“By all conversations with the business owners and chamber of commerce there, Spooky Nook has had a dramatic effect on the re-birth of their city,” Bass said.
During the afternoon they were in Lancaster, “the place was just bustling. There were people just constantly all over the business area. It was a thriving town,” he said.
Hoskins said business owners and economic development told the visiting Hamilton contingent that they “got ready pretty much after the fact.”
“What they recommended to us was to start preparing now,” she said. “That was our main interest in going, was what we needed to do to prepare for it now and not wait until it happens. We want to be ahead of this because we believe it’s going to be a game changer for Hamilton, Butler County and the surrounding area.”
The Hamilton group spoke with the owner of Mick’s All American Pub, a sports bar that anticipated a 30 percent revenue increase by moving three miles closer to Spooky Nook and instead saw a 250 percent revenue.
They also spoke with Red Robin Gourmet Burgers & Brews officials who oversee 21 stores in the franchise.
“That’s the only location that delivers and they deliver to Spooky Nook,” she said. “They are actually working at Spooky Nook right now in Pennsylvania to have a drop off area. Even though they’re 15 minutes away, it’s their busiest store in the country.”
Hoskins said it “doesn’t take much to figure out” that Spooky Nook at Champion Mill adding 20,000 to 40,000 visitors to Hamilton some weekends will help area businesses.
Having Spooky Nook’s convention center should also mean increased business throughout the work week, Hoskins said.
Tano Williams, a chef who is working to open a Hamilton location of Tano Bistro this summer, said experiencing Spooky Nook and its economic effect in person made him think, “Oh my God, this is going to change Hamilton forever.”
He said it was “amazing” to hear the thrill in the voices of business owners near Spooky Nook about how the facility’s weekend crowd helps them.
“It’s going to be not only just the weekends, but the potential for business to happen during the week is just as great,” Williams said. “I’m very excited.”
Bass said the new Spooky Nook is going to need more hotels, restaurants and other amenities for visitors than Hamilton can provide. Given the main regional route from Ross Twp. into Hamilton is Ohio 128, Bass said those new business owners might be attracted to the township.
Willsey said he would like officials from all neighboring communities to make a trip and study the impact on nearby governments.
“I’m more concerned for what it’s going to do for infrastructure in neighboring communities,” Willsey said.
Bob Harris, who visited the Pennsylvania complex on behalf of the South East Civic Association, which represents Hamilton’s impoverished Second and Fourth wards, said he sees traffic and property values increasing in those neighborhoods as a result of Spooky Nook.
“There are a lot of advantages and opportunities that will spring up,” Harris said.
One question Harris has for businesses in the areas he represents is, “What is the possibility of us coming up with businesses in the Second Ward between now and the time Spooky Nook comes here, businesses that can survive, that the community and the city will support?”
The community must be clean and considered safe, he said, but he sees no advantage if there is no investment in both wards by the city.
Wayne Jarrett, a local businessman who operates real estate and rental company OBJ Properties, also visited on behalf of SECA. He said Spooky Nook complex is “a lot to take in” and believes it will be “a wonderful thing for Hamilton” because of the opportunities it will bring to the city.
“I’m just trying to see how I can fit in it as an entrepreneur,” he said.
One thing Jarrett said he is considering for his business is the possibility of an Airbnb business that will allow people to rent homes, spare rooms or other properties to out-of-town guests.
Because of the impact Harris believes Spooky Nook will have here, he offered this suggestion about a trip to Pennsylvania: “If you’re in any kind of leadership capacity, you need to go.”