Butler County officials asked to give $5 million for Spooky Nook

Hamilton wants Butler County commissioners and the Butler County Visitors Bureau to contribute $2.5 million each to the planned, massive Spooky Nook sports and convention complex.

The city plans to seal its more than multi-million dollar development agreement with the sports complex developers in a couple weeks, then their financial advisor Andy Brossart said they can begin in earnest culling support from the county.

The city, according to Brossart, also intends to ask the Butler County Port Authority for funding so the developer can avoid sales tax on construction materials, among other functions the development agency can provide.

The entire project is estimated to cost $144 million — including a more than $26 million investment by Hamilton for loans, construction, utility and road improvements and more. The Hamilton Community Foundation has also pledged $13 million of its investment assets to help Spooky Nook secure a bank loan.

RELATED: Hamilton votes next month on $26 million Spooky Nook investment

At this point County Administrator Charlie Young said the exact details of the ask are not certain.

“It’s something that looks like cash, either to support a bond issue, a borrowing with a promise of a revenue stream, or to provide cash,” Young said. “In essence to provide support for the project.”

Butler County Commissioner Don Dixon told the Journal-News until they have more information they cannot decide whether they want to invest dollars in the project. If they do, it likely would not be until after the general fund debt is paid off in 2020. The county intends on establishing a fund with $5 million to $10 million available a year — the current debt service is $10 million to $12 million — for other jurisdictions to apply for help with new economic development ventures.

He said there won’t be any funds forthcoming from the commissioners this year and he expects the county would be on the “tail end” of the funding equation for Spooky Nook.

“There will be an economic development fund of some sort that will be countywide and they (all the other governing bodies) can all apply for projects for economic development and job creation,” he said. “We’ll consider that, we may fund one or two or three small ones or one big one a year. But that won’t happen until after 2020.”

Dixon said before they agree to anything, the commissioners need to know things like “plans and costs and ownership and who’s contributing and who’s getting paid back and how it gets paid back.”

Dixon said another matter to consider is the potential new bridge over the Great Miami River he asked the county engineer to consider building earlier this year, largely because of Spooky Nook. He estimated a new bridge would cost upwards of $50 million and the state would require a 50 percent match.

He said that potential project would also be part of the projects to be considered by the commissioners when the extra funds become available in 2021.

MORE: Great Miami River bridge project would be huge: What we know about plans

Mark Hecquet, executive director of the Butler County Visitors Bureau, said the city has also made a verbal request for $2.5 million from the organization, which his board is considering.

“They’ve asked,” he said, adding that the visitors bureau does not have that kind of cash.

Hotel taxes brought in $1.6 million last year, but the visitors bureau is possibly willing to negotiate “a structured deal over 10 to 20 years,” Hecquet said.

The visitors bureau invested $1 million in the new sports complex at Voice of America Park in West Chester Twp., over a 10-year period.

Projects on the scale of Spooky Nook — that could bring a projected 8,000 to 10,000 visitors a weekend to the county — are a worthy investment, Hecquet said.

“With projects that do bring a large volume of visitors and use of the hotels, it’s something we definitely like to engage in,” he said. “If we can further our visitor industry and bring new people into the community, it is something we do believe that we should be a part of.”

Hamilton City Manager Joshua Smith said recently that Spooky Nook’s existing complex, the largest in North America, near Lancaster, Pa., attracted 1.1 million visitors last year, 470,000 from outside the immediate area and off-site spending in 2017 was almost $40 million.

Tax collections — sales taxes are the county’s largest general fund revenue source — are a big reason why the county is considering buying into the project. Officials with Pennsylvania’s Department of Revenue said sales tax figures for individual businesses are confidential. Property records for the existing complex show the $24 million mega center paid $92,587 in property taxes this year.

“The economic impact study indicates a regional impact that it projects to be positive…,” Young said. “The additional sales tax that would be generated would be a reason that you might want to invest.”

Brossart said the city will be applying to the county port authority for help as well. Under Ohio law, port authorities can own, finance, construct and lease real estate including land, building and equipment. A port authority that buys or owns property for an expanding business, construction materials and other construction costs are tax-exempt. Also, ports can issue taxable and tax-exempt bonds, offering borrowers longer-term, fixed-rate financing than the terms of a commercial loan.

Brossart said “most likely” they will ask the port to help set up a Tax Increment Financing District for the property to facilitate a tax exemption on construction materials for the developer.

“One of the main reasons why we need to utilize the port authority, to utilize the TIF structure as a bond issue helps us also get the sales tax exemption on the construction materials,” Brossart said.

The city is expecting to consummate the development deal Oct. 10.

About the Author