Oct. 05–BUTLER COUNTY — The tourism industry in Butler County has exploded over the past several years and a new giant draw — the proposed Spooky Nook sports and convention complex in Hamilton — is expected to send visitor numbers and dollars in the county even higher.
With 8,000 to 10,000 visitors expected on a given weekend at the mega sports and convention complex on the banks of the Great Miami River, Mark Hecquet, executive director of the Butler County Visitors Bureau, said the impact on the entire region will be staggering.
"The creation of the indoor product such as this, yes there is an endless opportunity of sporting events, but the ability to host meetings and conventions in a wintertime atmosphere is something many around the country would be truly envious of…," he said. "A Spooky Nook provides a product that this county does not have, an indoor product that can draw people at a time people are typically not visiting."
He said Hamilton currently only has about 300 hotel rooms — there is a hotel planned in the Spooky Nook complex — so visitors will need to branch out countywide to find lodging. At least six new hotels are in the planning stages — not due to Spooky Nook necessarily but the whole complement of tourist attractions in the county — one is almost complete, the ALoft Hotel in West Chester Twp.
Aaron Wiegand, community development director in West Chester, said two more hotels have been approved in the township, a Hyatt House planned near the new TriHealth development at Cox Road and Liberty Way and a Hampton Inn south of Cabela's. The Middletown Planning Commission has approved an 88-room Holiday Inn Express on Towne Boulevard across from Walmart. There is a pending permit application for a four-story, 822 room Marriott Towneplace Suites in Fairfield. And in Oxford a 12-unit extension of the Elms Hotel has been approved.
"We're always excited to hear about the growth and development of our region. Money doesn't understand boundaries, it crosses over and the benefit in Hamilton is going to benefit West Chester… Just this idea of place-making and putting Butler County on the map makes everybody prosperous."
People will need to eat, and as tourists are want to do they'll shop, and seek out entertainment during downtime of the sporting events.
Hecquet said Spooky Nook is estimating their complex will bring an additional 40,000 hotel room nights — the visitors bureau operates on hotel taxes — a year to county hotels. Even if Spooky Nook weren't coming to town — the deal isn't sealed yet, Hamilton is expected to ratify the development agreement Wednesday — the visitors bureau is sporting some impressive data about the state of the tourism industry locally.
Tourism had a $1.2 billion impact — visitors touch every facet of the region from airports to the local McDonalds — on the county last year and employed more than 14,000 people, which represents 16.2 percent growth over the past three years. Hecquet also told the county commissioners recently visitors who came to town for sporting events spent $17.5 million directly and the total impact was probably around $42 million. The industry generated $27 million in local taxes.
Sporting events drew 135,000 athletes and visitors to 45 events in 2017. Hecquet said since conventions and sporting events don't just happen overnight, they are already lining up events to fill Spooky Nook when it arrives.
"We've already secured an event for the facility without even a shovel in the ground," Hecquet said. "We've secured an AAU girls basketball national championships, 300 teams are scheduled to come in 2021. They want to come here, they want to come play at Spooky Nook."
Some people have commented on Facebook that Spooky Nook will create a traffic nightmare.
"The traffic getting through downtown Hamilton is already insane during the daytime through early evening," one person wrote. "Can you imagine how many more cars would be coming through downtime for tournaments? Ugh."
City Manager Joshua Smith has said a traffic study for the project shows the peak times for Spooky Nook are down times for other traffic.
"The one thing we've been pleased with is the Nook's heaviest traffic volumes occur after 6 p.m. on Friday, and they're done most times by 8 on Sunday evening," Smith told the Journal-News in a recent interview. "That is perfect when you look at our traffic modeling: Our busiest traffic times are from 6:30 a.m. on Monday to about 6:30 p.m. on Friday. So it aligns almost perfectly."
The comments on Facebook point to something Hecquet said is a growing concern in the tourism industry worldwide. He said residents in places like Venice and other places people like to visit have become hostile to out-of-towners and they are working to make sure that doesn't happen here.
"We wanted to make sure that our residents continue to understand that visitors are good. They are good for our economy and we need to help continue to explain why that is…," Hecquet said. "We've seen around the world there is over-tourism and residents have basically started shunning visitors and that's creating a negative perception of visiting and we don't want that to happen."
The Butler County Visitors Bureau has a vision for where they want to see the industry in 10 years, when they project there will be a $2 billion impact on the county and their goal is that 90 percent of the residents support the industry, that should be employing about 20,000 people by then.