Because construction bids came in $2.5 million to $3 million lower than expected for parking to serve the Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill development, Hamilton officials are using leftover money to buy more properties to level buildings for parking.
Some of the targeted areas are just east of the Black Street Bridge, with others located north of the project on the west side of the Great Miami River.
The Hamilton Community Authority last week amended a tax increment financing cooperative agreement to allow the purchase of about a dozen properties east of the river that the city doesn’t already own, plus others along the river’s western shore, to create 500 to 750 more parking spaces.
Parking may be critical to success of the facility that may attract 10,000-plus athletes and their families to the city on some weekends.
The city already made accommodations for five parking areas through bonds that were sold last year. Some other parking areas were privately financed. The added parking areas would take the total parking spaces to nearly 3,000.
“One of the primary interests we had, and concerns we had when we came out here was parking,” Spooky Nook owner Sam Beiler told the Hamilton Community Authority last week. “We learned that very quickly in Pennsylvania (the original Spooky Nook location). We did not have enough parking when we opened, and it took us almost a year to recover.”
In Pennsylvania, the facility eliminated some outdoor fields to create more parking but still needed more, he said. In Pennsylvania, where there are more than 2,000 spaces for some events, the complex overcame the problem by scheduling games in waves, so some people participating in the first wave could leave and make room for the next group.
But in Hamilton, a goal is to have the visitors park at Spooky Nook and stay all day, “because that’s just better for traffic all around,” Beiler said.
“If we are successful in keeping people who visit Hamilton in those lots so that they’re on their feet, walking around, visiting shops, and all of the other things we expect they’ll do while they’re here, it led to an interest in additional parking,” he added. The extra parking in Hamilton “would be pretty helpful,” Beiler said.
City employees Tom Vanderhorst and Aaron Hufford are negotiating with property owners. Under the plan for acquisitions, Hamilton would buy the properties and they would be transferred to the Hamilton Community Authority, which would reimburse the city. If there isn’t enough money to pave all the lots, gravel cover may be used.
Sometimes when cities buy property for development, they use eminent domain to force sales at fair market value. But city spokesman Brandon Saurber told the Journal-News, when asked, that Vanderhorst, the city’s executive director of external services, told him the city has “never” raised that issue with owners.
“He said, ‘Absolutely not. It has never, to any of those property owners,” Saurber said.
Some buildings in the area have occupied apartments. Others are commercial.
“I think it’s a matter of weeks to understand if those properties can be tied up under agreement,” Beiler told authority members. “So it’s not months and months to learn whether owners are willing to sell,” and how the properties that might not be sold would affect the parking lots overall.
Beiler said the city prior to the project acquired some properties because of their condition “and probably in the interest of safety. So those were torn down and remain empty lots. So to some degree this is already just a continuation of work that’s been underway to create a safer neighborhood.”
Several property owners did not return calls seeking their thoughts.
While there will be a shuttle that can take parkers across the bridge to Spooky Nook, officials believe many who park east of the river will take the walk across the Black Street Bridge.
With properties east of the river, the city for decades has bought properties, located across from the city’s power plant, for an area to store coal.
City spokesman Brandon Saurber said discussions with owners are going well.
“As I understand it, the prices that we’re talking about now are twice as much as we’ve historically paid for properties in this area,” he said.
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