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Hamilton bets on sports complex, hotel and convention center to boost its struggling economy

Council approves $26 million for Spooky Nook
Posted at 12:22 PM, Oct 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-26 00:17:36-04

The originally published version of this article misstated the size of the complex as 700,000 square feet and included an inaccurate aside about layoffs within Hamilton's city government. WCPO regrets these errors.

HAMILTON, Ohio  -- Hamilton officials are betting millions that a 1,000,000-square foot sports complex, hotel and convention center will boost their struggling economy for decades to come.

About 20 city leaders and hundreds of spectators participated in a ceremonial groundbreaking Thursday at the site of the old Champion Paper Mill, once the city's biggest employer. 

It looked that it was designed to mark, not the death of a city, but its rebirth.

"Today I can announce and pronounce that Spooky Nook Sports At Champion Mill in Hamilton, Ohio, is alive, and it's time is now," Mayor Pat Moeller said triumphantly.

The city is committed to investing $26 million of the $144 million it will take to transform the deserted paper mill on B Street. Not only is its name unusual, the megacomplex will be unlike anything Hamilton has ever seen.

"We are a large event center and we're prepared to host anything from weddings to woodworking shows to bridge tournaments, volleyball tournaments on and on," said Sam Beiler, founder of Spooky Nook. The company's name comes from the Spooky Nook Road location of its first mega project in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

If that project is any indication of success, Butler County could see the creation of thousands of new jobs  from $90 million in direct and indirect revenue from athletes and families visiting from as far as 300 miles away.

"That would include things like gasoline purchase, restaurant purchases ... " Beiler said. "We booked over 61,000 room nights that came through our booking service."

The enormous complex will include outdoor and indoor fields, basketball courts, gym facilities, rock-climbing spaces, video games area and just about everything else you can think of, like its Pennsylvania predecessor.

PHOTOS: What Spooky Nook in Lancaster County looks like.

"I think it’s going to be the most significant thing that has happened in Hamilton maybe ever, and a very significant thing for the entire region … from the edges of Cincinnati to the edges of Dayton,” said Dan Bates, president and CEO of the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce.

Bates spoke Wednesday when City Council voted 7-0 to approve development agreements with Spooky Nook.

“It’s going to drive the economy throughout the entire region,” Bates said. “It’s investment in the future, which will bring jobs, money for streets, money for schools. This is the single biggest thing I think that we can do to positively impact our future.”

After the meeting, Council Member Tim Naab said he believes the project will help Hamilton for decades.

“This complex will bring a plethora of opportunity to our city,” Naab said. Spooky Nook “is going to define Hamilton for the next 50 years to come, and hopefully a lot longer than that.” 

But resident Mark Kidd was skeptical. He asked, “What is the draw? Where are people going to come from?”

City Manager Joshua Smith said teams of athletes and their families drive from as far as 300 miles to the Pennsylvania Spooky Nook, and officials expect the same for the one in Hamilton.

Officials said fhe complex will contain Greater Cincinnati’s second largest convention space, behind only downtown Cincinnati’s Duke Energy Convention Center.

The Journal-News, a media partner of WCPO 9 On Your Side, contributed to this story.