"There's been a lot of man hours that have gone into taking a (former Champion) paper mill that was the largest coated paper company in the United States in 1910, that was effectively abandoned in 2012, and now has the potential to be turned into maybe one of the biggest community assets we have," Smith said.
Spooky Nook believes the massive sports events and training complex can draw sports teams for tournaments from a 3.5-hour drive and can lure families and teams from across the county for training there. City leaders hope the complex’s users will fill what they envision as a Main Street entertainment district.
The city in recent years has created significant numbers of new jobs, and four of the city’s top 20 employers “did not exist in 2012,” Smith said, with companies still ramping up to promised job creation in the next couple of years, he noted.
“The one thing council said to me 6 1/2 years ago (was): We need jobs in the community,” Smith said. “Well, you will never receive jobs in the community if you don’t provide the amenities that people want to move into the community,” he said. “Young workers, young professionals, people don’t want to live in a community where they cannot get amenities.”
Council Member Rob Wile took a moment to note how large a turnaround Hamilton has made in the past 8-10 years, from troubled budgets to balanced and stable ones, featuring healthy reserve funds.
“Sometimes we forget how remarkable this story is,” Wile said. “The city was in a spiral in 2010, make no mistake.”
He credited Smith and the city’s 600 employees for what he called “a remarkable turnaround story.”
“I just think this is something that we should all enjoy for the moment, and then tomorrow demand more of the same from Mr. Smith,” he added. “But this is a huge story: Other cities can’t tell this story.”
The discussion took place as part of consideration of the city’s proposed $307.97 million budget ($45.6 million in the general fund), which the council is expected to vote on at its Dec. 21 meeting.
The city this decade has focused its budget on spending that improves quality of life. With 1,000 new jobs on the way, the city now also is working to improve shopping, residential and entertainment options along Main Street. About $3.4 million will go to the city's nonprofit Community Improvement Corporation, which will make a loan to the nonprofit redevelopment CORE Fund (Consortium for Ongoing Reinvestment Efforts) to reactivate buildings along Main Street between B and D streets.
When that money is repaid in late 2018, the city then plans to infuse it into business corridors in the Second Ward and Lindenwald.
Meanwhile, fast-growing companies in the city like Barclaycard, Startek, ThyssenKrupp Bilstein are having trouble filling their new positions and have been seeking help with bus routes through those two neighborhoods in particular to get potential workers to jobs, Smith said.