Spooky Nook Sports ‘ushers in a new era in Hamilton’

A portion of the $165 million complex showcased its potential, guests said.

After six years of talk, planning and construction, the much-anticipated Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill was on display for the public to see ― or at least a small portion of it.

Hundreds of party-goers at the first event at Spooky Nook, the Play Ball Gala hosted by the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, had an intimate look at most of the convention center space and some of the hotel rooms.

The gala was held to a fraction of the 1.2 million-square-foot complex’s capacity that features the Champion Mill Convention Center and Warehouse Hotel on one side of North B Street. The 600,000-square-foot sports and events complex on the other side of the road was not ready for exhibition.

The $165 million development is opening in phases with the hotel opening earlier this month as it made some of its 233 rooms available to rent. It is anticipated the complex could be operational by late summer, according to previous projections.

Spooky Nook spokesperson Mackenzie Bender said Thursday night’s gala “was incredible.”

“To see that event come together was six-plus years in the making and it was more than worth it,” she said. “The best part was watching lifetime Hamiltonians walk through the building and express their enthusiasm for the new life brought to the town through this project. Our drive for this project has never wavered.”

Spooky Nook is opening in phases. The Warehouse Hotel, which is attached to the Champion Mill Convention Center, is taking reservations as its opened a limited number of hotel rooms. More hotel rooms are expected to be completed over the next several weeks. The convention center is expected to open soon, and the indoor sports and event facility should open later this summer.

The complex is also to be home to several second locations Hamilton businesses, including Sara’s House, Petals & Wicks, and Municipal Brew Works. There will also be some unique shops inside the complex, as well as the Forklift & Palate Restaurant, an eatery that’s at the original Spooky Nook in Pennsylvania.

Spooky Nook is a renovation of the former Champion Paper Mill. Cohen Recycling owner Neil Cohen said he would come to the paper company to buy rolls of its scrap to recycle. He was one of the hundreds attending the Play Ball Gala.

“I remember what the dungeons looked like, the rolls were stacked,” he said pointing to various spots of the transformed former paper mill. “Now, I’m saying, I want part of this action. This is so cool.”

Cohen and his company, which is co-owned by his brother Ken Cohen, is planning to be part of the developments that will surround Spooky Nook. Cohen Reycling’s Hamilton facility at Black and North Third streets will relocate to a smaller footprint about a half-mile north. When that move happens, the existing near-18-acre recycling plant will be redeveloped. Cohen said his company has made an agreement with a development company, and now it’s a waiting game.

“They’re now doing their diligence,” Cohen said. “I believe it’s going to happen, but I just think it’s going to take some time.”

Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors Chairman Nick Ziepfel called the night “fantastic.”

“I think it ushers in a new era in Hamilton,” he said. “I know it’s not completely finished, but it’s finally giving everybody a taste of what those that have worked on this project have known for a better part of five years.”

That era is expected to impact communities beyond Butler County as officials from several surrounding communities attended the gala.

Fairfield Economic Development Manager Nathaniel Kaelin said Spooky Nook is “an economic development win the region.”

“While outside our borders, we hope that visitors to Spooky Nook will check out Fairfield’s restaurants, hotels, Jungle Jim’s, parks and trails, and other attractions. Historically, companies like Champion Paper in Hamilton and Fisher Body in Fairfield had big impacts on both communities,” he said. “Today, projects like Spooky Nook or the expansions of large companies like Pacific Manufacturing and Koch Foods in Fairfield still impact both communities, providing economic base employment that supports better amenities and services for our residents.”

Along the six-plus-year journey, there have been naysayers about the project, but Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Dan Bates said the progress showcased at Thursday’s gala was “a very big benchmark.”

“It’s an exciting benchmark that says, ‘This is just a sampling of where Hamilton is going,’” he said. “There have been challenges along the way, there were challenges for this event. But it’s typical Hamilton to figure out a way to do things. This is a major step forward.”

Kristina Latta-Landefeld had a unique perspective during the evolution of the Spooky Nook project when she was rowing in the river.

“I feel like I’ve had a very intimate view of this progress, literally from the river, watching it at 5:30 in the morning while it’s still dark,” said the Great Miami Rowing Center executive director and head coach. “You can see people working in here and hear them. That’s been phenomenal. I know it’s a dream come true for so many people.”

Latta-Landefeld said many downtown businesses have put their faith into Spooky Nook, such as Petals and Wicks, Municipal Brew Works and Sara’s House, by opening a second location at the facility.

“I think it’s going to be transformative for our community, and what I look forward to is people from Hamilton finally believing,” she said.

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