A sports complex coming to Hamilton had a massive impact in another state. Here’s what happened.

When the Spooky Nook Sports at Champion Mill opens in Hamilton, it will offer a variety of sports that people around here usually can’t play during the winter, including softball and flag football. Here, the sprawling Spooky Nook complex near Manheim, Pa., hosts a volleyball tournament. MIKE RUTLEDGE/STAFF
When the Spooky Nook Sports at Champion Mill opens in Hamilton, it will offer a variety of sports that people around here usually can’t play during the winter, including softball and flag football. Here, the sprawling Spooky Nook complex near Manheim, Pa., hosts a volleyball tournament. MIKE RUTLEDGE/STAFF

Spooky Nook “came out of nowhere” in Pennsylvania, catching businesses there unprepared.

Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce officials want to make sure that doesn’t happen here.

A recent fact-finding mission to the Lancaster, Pa. area around the massive 700,000-square-foot sports and events complex has chamber officials focused on helping Hamilton businesses prepare for the game-changing nature of a location.

Spooky Nook Sports at Champion Mill is expected to break ground along North B Street and the west shore of the Great Miami River this fall in advance of a 2020 opening.

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Opened in 2013, Spooky Nook Sports is North America’s largest indoor sports site, drawing between 8,000 to 20,000 each day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday as it simultaneously hosts clubs, leagues, tournaments and championship events throughout every season.

During the week, the facility runs regular programming, trainings, corporate conventions and expos that bring in “smaller but still very significant numbers” averaging an additional 2,000-plus Monday through Thursday, according to according to Dan Bates, president and CEO of the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce.

In 2017, more than 1.1 million people visited Spooky Nook. That influx of visitors boosts the bottom line of businesses within a 25-mile radius of the attraction, said Bates, who led a three-day trip to Lancaster earlier this month.

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Local chamber officials saw Spooky Nook and its regional impact and met with chamber of commerce and economic development officials there, as well as local business owners.

A sports bar, Mick’s All American Pub, told chamber officials that one of three area locations did $900,000 in revenues a year. After moving three miles closer to Spooky Nook in late 2015, the business saw revenues skyrocket in 2016 to $2.4 million, Bates said.

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Brews officials, who oversee 21 stores in the franchise, told the chamber delegation they have the largest store in the nation because of the business generated by Spooky Nook, Bates said.

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“They’re 15 miles away from Spooky Nook and they do tremendous business from it because they promote themselves to the people at Spooky Nook,” he said.

The store has become so popular that many of the ideas that come out of it — including catering — end up used by Red Robin locations nationwide.

The effect of Spooky Nook “came out of nowhere” and was so sudden and unexpected, that nobody knew what was coming, Bates said.

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Hotels, some of which were constructed only because of Spooky Nook, continue to fill up so fast around the attraction that guests are turning to Spooky Nook to help them book accommodations that are 45 minutes to an hour away.

“If somebody’s driving three to five hours to get there, another 30 or 40 minutes is no big deal,” he said. “People are staying in Harrisburg to come to Spooky Nook, not just for sports but for conventions, because they (existing hotels in the area) just don’t have the capacity.”

“People start calling and they need to book 5,000 or 6,000 rooms. That’s a pretty big spread.”

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One hotel official told the visiting Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce team that hotels in the area didn’t prepare for Spooky Nook because they “didn’t get it,” Bates said.

“She said the first weekend they had 8,000 people looking for rooms and places to eat … then they got it,” he said.

One hotel even created a resort and sports sales manager position to have someone who pays close attention to Spooky Nook’s event calendar and notifies the local business community in terms of what’s coming and when, as well as how many people are expected, to allow local businesses ample time to prepare.

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“It really has changed the entire region in that perspective, that a lot of the hotels will need someone just for sports tourism,” said Tiffany Grubb, the chamber’s membership development coordinator.

The influx of tourism spawned even more.

“They noticed that people who had come for a sporting event, that they were returning for a family vacation or a long weekend because it really is within a five to seven-hour radius that it will draw from,” said Nancy O’Neill, the chamber’s director of events and leadership.

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“They discovered Lancaster,” Bates said. “Spooky Nook is driving traffic to downtown Lancaster. Like we have our Main Street, they have a whole downtown section similar to Main Street: small shops, coffee shops and antique store, stuff like that.”

Spooky Nook has even increased traffic on slow days to one of the region’s biggest draws, Hershey Park, Bates said. In addition, a whole section of an area outlet mall is being torn down based upon demand to build an improved experience for the crowds that Spooky Nook generates.

O’Neill said the several business owners told the chamber delegation: “You’re so lucky this is coming to you. We’re happy for you.”

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Bates said chamber officials will use what they gleaned from the visit to formulate a plan that will help Hamilton-area businesses be better prepared for the opening of Spooky Nook’s expected 2020 opening in Hamilton and expected influx of thousands of visitors each weekend.

“We think we have two years to get everybody ready, and that’s going to go fast,” he said.