Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill construction February 2020

Spooky Nook looking to add restaurants, unique retail in Hamilton indoor sports complex

With construction going vertical this month on the 1.2 million-square-foot facility, the focus has shifted to further development across the site, including restaurant or retail users, according to founder and owner Sam Beiler.

Spooky Nook Sports’ original location just outside of Lancaster, Pennsylvania operates most of the businesses that are inside the building, but Beiler said he is taking a different approach to the Hamilton site. Last week, he said he was slated to meet with potential tenants and remains open to requests for information or proposals.

Spooky Nook Champion Mill, which is expected to be the largest indoor sports complex in North America, will offer about 60,000 square feet of retail space, a little more than half the size of a typical big-name grocery store. That amount of space will allow the facility to include four or five restaurants and a food court component of smaller outfits, plus four or five retail options, Beiler said.

MORE: Spooky Nook goes vertical: Giant Hamilton project moves to building phase

“People come and they stay for a couple of days. And there’s not usually a lot of time between the games, so whatever’s in this very local area is what will benefit the most,” he said.

A “unique, creative food or retail” business is what Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill wants to play host to, not a “take-something-off-the-rack type of retail.”

“We understand there might be several thousand volleyball players here. They want something to do in the hour-and-a-half between games. What can they do?” he said. “There’s a couple of things up here on Main Street that are good examples, like the candle shop (and also a ceramics place). Those are the types of things I think that people are interested in. They want experiential retail versus just a dollar exchange for just a shirt.”

Hamilton-area residents could visit Spooky Nook to dine at a restaurant or patronize a retail business, even if they’re not interested in the fitness aspect of the place.

“We’ve not identified one, but we think there will be a strong demand for a salon or spa type use,” he said.

MORE: NEW PHOTOS: Tour of Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill construction

City officials said they are not surprised that Beiler is focusing his offerings on providing unique guest experiences.

“He was once the father of a young traveling athlete, and he understands his customers very well,” said Brandon Saurber, Hamilton’s director of neighborhoods. “We’re excited about all the offerings, at Spooky Nook Champion Mill and throughout the city, that will provide quality experiences to Hamilton residents and visitors.”

Dan Bates, president of the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, said there many small businesses that are successful in Hamilton that had initial interest in being inside Spooky Nook, but some of them, as they’ve examined the specifics, have realized it may not be good fit.

“Then it’s a decision (of), ‘Do I give up my current bricks-and-mortar (location) to do everything at Spooky Nook or do I try to do both?’” Bates said.

Some business owners have realized they can benefit just by being open near Spooky Nook, without having to be inside, he said.

MORE: Officials say Spooky Nook will benefit locals, not just travelers: Here are 6 ways

The boom that is projected to accompany Spook Nook’s opening will benefit not only existing businesses along Main and High streets, but also will grow the business community, with entrepreneurs opening shops along side streets, as well, Bates said.

“Two years ago, you were either on High Street or you weren’t interested,” he said. “Now there’s more and more people looking at Court and the next streets over.”

Retail and dining options outside of Spooky Nook will be important for the city, Beiler said. The original location of Spooky Nook Sports was greatly aided by the opening of a small new development an exit away, he said, one that now includes a Fuddruckers, Tropical Smoothie Cafe, McDonald’s, Hampton Inn & Suites and Mick’s All American Pub.

“That helped us a lot because … there might be 7,000 or 8,000 (people) at a time in the building,” Beiler said. “Well, we can’t feed that many, not properly, so it’s really important that there be hospitality infrastructure in the surrounding area. What we see in Hamilton now is a good start, but I guarantee you as the crowds come in, there’s going to be more restaurants, there will be another hotel or two, and those kinds of things will develop based on demand.”

Increased demand will see local retailers needing to up their game to keep serving their customers, officials said. In 2013, two weeks after the Pennsylvania Spooky Nook opened, a local gas station reached out with a request.

“They contacted us and said, ‘Hey, could we please have a schedule of your events, because we ran out of gasoline last weekend,’” Beiler said.

Travelers are increasingly looking for unique and one-of-a-kind experiences that communities offer, experiences that will make a trip memorable and experiences that a traveler can’t find at home, according to Mark Hecquet, president and CEO of the Butler County Visitors Bureau.

“Spooky Nook’s focus on bringing in unique experiences from both a retail and dining perspective will certainly help it to draw a wider variety of people to the facility as well as provide those who arrive for sports events more activities and options to do while in the area,” Hecquet said. “In addition, it will further differentiate Spooky Nook from other of facilities in the region when competing for prospective groups and events.”

Staff Writer Mike Rutledge contributed to this story.

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