Hamilton creating new entities to foster mega sports complex

In preparation for development of the mega sports complex that Hamilton officials believe can trigger growth in the center of the city, plans are underway to create two entities that will help finance the project.

The proposed $85 million to $90 million Spooky Nook Sports at Champion Mill, which will occupy the site of the former Champion Paper mill along North B Street, will be a “breathtakingly large” facility like the existing one in Manheim, Penn.

ExploreMORE: Impact of Hamilton sports center will be countywide

On Wednesday, Hamilton City Council is expected to approve an ordinance creating a “New Community Authority” for the property of the former Champion Paper property and adjoining land. Under state law, such an organization can be used to pay costs of property purchases, land development and other community facilities. It also can finance construction of the properties.

In the second move, council on May 10 will consider creating an Energy Special Improvement District encompassing the former Champion site. That can help finance energy-efficient parts of the facility, as well as other properties that choose to opt into the district.

Dan Bates, president and CEO of the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, said the moves are positives.

“The chamber is extremely excited about Spooky Nook coming to Hamilton,” he said. “It’ll be an incredible driver, not just involving the entity itself, but what it will do for local small business and employment. Anything that the city can do to assist in moving this project forward, we would support 100 percent.”

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The Pennsylvania facility’s size is difficult to convey with words or even pictures — think of a shopping mall or a huge warehouse one sees along major highways. It has 14 acres of sports courts, fields, training facilities, workout rooms, stores, rock-climbing walls and other amenities under one roof. In addition, there are outdoor sports fields.

Hamilton’s version is planned to be similar in size. Hamilton leaders believe it can foster developments of stores in the downtown area plus help increase customers for an entertainment district along Main Street.

The Spooky Nook complex here not only will draw athletes, families and teams not only from Butler County and the surrounding region, but is expected to lure teams from a 3.5-hour drive for sports tournaments and other events. People drive that far, and farther, to reach the Pennsylvania facility.

Officials hope construction will start this year, with an opening of the complex in late 2018.

ExploreWATCH: Take a virtual walk through the proposed Hamilton complex

About the New Community Authority

The proposed New Community Authority will have the ability to levy taxes, such as sales taxes or hotel taxes.

The city’s development director, Jody Gunderson, and its finance director, Tom Vanderhorst, emphasized that such taxes, assessments and fees only will apply to the properties in the district, which so far is to include the Champion site and other city-owned land. Other properties can be included, but only if their owners want them to be part of it.

“The way it works is the property owner has to enroll into the new community authority to have their property considered,” Vanderhorst said. Right now, the only ones that are going to be put in there are the one that the city owns, or is in the chain of ownership.”

He said Spooky Nook owners want this authority, which will have a board with seven trustees from the city and developer, “because it will allow them to go ahead and levy these charges. The nice thing about it is the people who are benefiting from the facility are the ones who will be paying these charges.”

One thing that can be financed by the money reaped by the authority’s taxes is parking lots that serve the complex.

The Energy Special Improvement District

The Energy Special Improvement District works like other special improvement districts, except that it is focused on the financing of energy-efficient products, Gunderson and Vanderhorst said.

“The ESID will allow the property owner to get access to capital for energy improvements,” Vanderhorst said. “So if they put in windows, or an insulated roof, or (heating/air-conditioning) system or something that’s beyond the minimum building code, that qualifies as a qualifying expense because it can show energy savings.”

One reason financiers of such developers like such improvements is, “it’s a more stable credit, and it secures their debt to the property. So if a project goes belly-up, it’s not a consumer debt where it just liquidates the debt,” Vanderhorst said. “In this case, it attaches, just like a property tax. And so when somebody buys it, they buy it subject to the assessment, and the underwriters look at that as having equity in the project.”

Spooky Nook officials were unavailable to comment for this article.

Gunderson said some pre-construction work already has begun, such as survey work and underground borings to evaluate the soil and rock below the site.

“So you’ll see people out there doing some remediation work soon enough, and they’ve already done some of the survey work for the site,” Gunderson said.

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