But the Champion Mill Conference Center and hotel are ‘progressing well,’ company says

HAMILTON — The indoor sports complex part of the $165 million Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill will not open in late March and the company is not yet able to provide an estimate of when it will happen, owner Sam Beiler told the Journal-News on Tuesday.

Asked how many months delay, if that much, it might be, Beiler said, “I don’t know. I haven’t seen the recovery schedule (from the contractor) yet.”

On the other hand, Mill 2, the part of the project that will be known as Champion Mill Conference Center, with 233 hotel rooms, ballrooms and large meeting spaces, “is progressing well,” with an end-of-March targeted completion date, despite construction happening during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In that part of the project, which is located between the Great Miami River and North B Street, there have been “nominal delays” with some window deliveries, availability of some paint, furniture, fixtures and equipment, which have created daily challenges but are not expected to push back the opening. The Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce has scheduled a gala for Wed., April 20 to show off both sides of the facility.

Beiler said he is sorry the expected thousands of athletes and their families visiting the city for sports tournaments and other events may not start as soon as expected.

“The city, the city council — all of our local partners, which include the local businesses — they’ve been tremendously supportive,” he said. “So to say I’m disappointed in the delay is probably an understatement. Any negative effect on the local businesses is obviously very disappointing.”

“I’m not dismayed, I’m not alarmed,” said Dan Bates, president and CEO of the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce. “It’s going to be fabulous when it opens, and it’s going to be this year.”

“If it’s a three-months-or-so delay, that’s not a big deal, in the scope of things,” Bates said.

ExploreSpooky Nook, B Street work progresses

Bates said the delay will give some businesses the extra time they need to prepare for arrival of crowds that can be expected when 10,000 or more athletes and their families arrive in Hamilton and look for places to eat, drink, shop and have fun before, after and between games at sports tournaments.

“If it’s a few months later than they said, when was the last time that anybody else around here built a $150 million project?” Bates said. “Stuff happens, and with COVID, and material delays, and the collapse of the one building, I’m saying, ‘hats off to you guys that you’ve been able to keep it this close to the schedule.’”

“If it's a few months later than they said, when was the last time that anybody else around here built a $150 million project? Stuff happens, and with COVID, and material delays, and the collapse of the one building, I'm saying, ‘Hats off to you guys that you've been able to keep it this close to the schedule.'"

- Dan Bates, president and CEO of the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce

Businesses not overly worried

The Main Street business owners who were willing to speak after the surprise news said they weren’t concerned.

Dave Ernst, one of four partners in Hamilton’s Urban Backyard at 501 Main St., said he wasn’t surprised by the delay, given the indoor sports facility’s size and the wind damage.

“I’m not totally surprised,” he said. “I drive by the location quite often.”

“Our project here was obviously way, way smaller, but knowing the hurdles you have to deal with on a commercial project, the supply chain out in front of everybody in the world right now, I guess I’m not surprised.”

Hamilton’s Urban Backyard had an opening that was delayed from early September until Oct. 1, because, “I was missing one component for a walk-in cooler, which that set us back. It was a supply-chain issue,” Ernst said. “And we had an issue when it came in. We had to get it rebuilt, and when you don’t have that in place, you can’t get your cooler at temperature, which then I can’t get food-service-operations approvals through the city.” And those were needed to get a liquor permit, he said.

He said he feels for Beiler and those building Spooky Nook juggling those issues.

“Obviously, it’s disappointing to us, but at the same time, when we put together our business plan, it wasn’t predicated totally on Spooky Nook being open, because we had no idea when it was going to open and what it would bring,” Ernst said. “We’re definitely excited and ready for when the patrons come to visit Hamilton.”

ExploreAnticipated HUB on Main now open as Hamilton’s Urban Backyard

Trying to make up time

“The contractor has committed to providing a recovery schedule by the end of this week,” Beiler said. After he reviews that schedule with them, he plans to spend some days asking, “How do we make up time?”

“Let’s just start with ‘No delay is acceptable, and how close can we get back to the original date?’” Beiler said. “Manpower will affect it. It’ll also be affected by any supply-chain issues, which, I think we’re going to be OK. But then, if we’re asking people to work Saturdays or 50 hours a week, or whatever it is, it’s going to drive some costs into the project, which I believe we have room to accommodate to some degree or another.”

“Until we work through that, I can’t really put a date out,” Beiler said.

Wind storm’s damage caused large delays

One factor that delayed the sports complex more than was expected was the blowing over of an almost-finished skeleton of “Building 500,” which is to house an indoor soccer/lacrosse/football field that now must be replaced. Insurance disputes over the collapse have taken months and even though the company planned to open the rest of the sports complex without that building being finished, construction of other buildings still was delayed, Beiler said.

ExploreSpooky Nook building’s toppling by high winds comes after months of strong progress at the Hamilton site

“It just took far too long to resolve,” Beiler said. “When it collapsed, I believed that within three months we’d have a resolution and we’d reorder a building that would be ready to be erected. That didn’t happen. It looks like insurance may take a longer to come to a conclusion.”

Building 300, one of the two gigantic sports-complex large buildings, which will contain sports-surface courts, was to share a wall with the building that collapsed. The company held multiple conversations about how to close that wall and Spooky Nook had to hire a separate structural engineer to create plans for a new wall.

“Obviously, it has to be safe, but it doesn’t take months to figure out how to close a building,” Beiler said.

The open wall didn’t allow heating of Building 300. Without proper temperatures, painters couldn’t do their work. Some electric lines and plumbing also had to be rerouted.

The rest of the complex may open before Building 500 is replaced, Beiler said.

“Our very strong preference would be to have it all open at once, but we will not let a delay of 500 hold up the rest of the project,” Beiler said.

“We closed on the bonds for the project days after we went into ‘Fifteen days to flatten the (COVID-19) curve.’ Do you remember that foolish statement?” Beiler said. “Fifteen days to flatten the curve is now 650 days later that we’ve been impacted by seemingly one thing after another that came out of the governmental response to COVID.”

“Probably, to some degree, we’re fortunate we didn’t get stopped somewhere along the way,” he said. “Because sometimes it was nothing but a very challenging grind. But everybody’s held together. Everybody kept pulling in the same direction, and so we’ll bring this thing across the finish line, and hopefully not much later than we expected initially.”

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