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Proposal for ballpark, indoor sports center in Hamilton moves forward

Monday, May 18, 2015

The group working to develop a massive indoor sports complex and baseball stadium along the Great Miami River in Hamilton is now reaching out for support from leaders throughout the county, and beginning to fundraise.

All funding sources available, including private and public contributions, local government incentives and tax credits, will be pursued, according to Frances Mennone, the project manager and a board member of The Great Miami Rowing Center. While the business plan is still being finalized, similar projects have cost in the range of $30 million to $40 million, Mennone said.

“Based off of the interest that has been garnered by the project partners and the regional stakeholders, we have no intention of stepping back from this project,” Mennone said. “We are moving forward.”

Other members of the group include Moses B. Glick, owner of the property on the west side of North B Street under his company Green Reclamation LLC; local architect Mike Dingeldein of Community Design Alliance; and community volunteer Jim Fitton.

Green Reclamation LLC hired two national consulting firms to determine whether the complex/ballpark could actually work in Hamilton. Sports Facilities Advisory out of Clearwater, Fla., focused on the feasibility of the indoor sports complex portion, while Baltimore, Md.-based the Sports Force looked into whether the region would handle a minor league-sized baseball stadium. Those two agencies will continue to work with Mennone and other local partners on the project as they work to raise capital, develop their business plan, and should the project get the green light, throughout construction.

Sports Facilities Advisory’s complex management arm, Sports Facilities Management, is in negotiations with Glick as to whether they would take over operations of the sports complex, said SFA/SFM’s Partner and Chief Risk Officer, Eric Sullivan.

And though the Sport’s Force does not manage operations for ballparks themselves, they have identified an operator who is interested in managing the ballpark and creating an independent minor league baseball team similar to the Florence Freedom.

“That shows that not only is the area great for baseball, but the fact that an operator is already interested in operations is very encouraging,” said Jim Arnold, business development director for the Sports Force.

Sports would be the primary focus for both the complex and ballpark, Sullivan and Arnold said. The complex would have components for field sports like lacrosse and soccer, court space for basketball and volleyball, and batting cages, along with fitness classes, rock-climbing, and ancillary retail and food options. The Great Miami Rowing Center — which since January is managed by national rowing management firm Row America — would be a partner right next door at 330 North B St. The ballpark could become home for a minor league baseball team, the summer collegiate team the Hamilton Joes, Little League teams, and possibly a professional soccer league.

But both Sullivan and Arnold also emphasized that the spaces would be used year-round for events like car shows, bridal shows and more regional events.

“W’re looking to create a hub for the community that is truly a family destination,” Sullivan said. “We want this to be a place where you can find healthy, fun, recreational opportunities for everyone.”

The project has drawn supporters from throughout Butler County.

“It’s going to be a destination project that will bring people not only from Hamilton, but from the region,” said Butler County Commissioner T.C. Rogers.

“We do believe every project must stand on their own and I think it would complement some of the sports activity which we’re getting around Voice of America in the summer season. Because this is indoor, maybe it could continue for the winter season, so we could have people visiting Butler County year-round,” Rogers said.

Last year, 22 natural grass fields opened at West Chester Twp.’s Voice of America Park.

Commissioners have not discussed whether or not to provide any funding for the project at this point, he said. “Any financial support which we would consider, we only do it by the numbers now,” he said, meaning projects do not receive funds without any payback to taxpayers.

Hamilton’s Economic Development Director Jody Gunderson said that even though the city has not made a formal pledge of support yet, he personally hoped that it would be successful.

“I think that any time that we have someone taking a look at a project of that scale, and something that is very unique, we’re always very excited about them exploring the opportunities,” he said.

Hamilton officials continue to explore options for the city-owned former Champion Paper property on the east side of North B Street, though Gunderson said they are in “a bit of a holding pattern” as they wait to see how development progresses across the street.

“It’s a great building with a lot of character, and we want to make sure that if we move forward with it, that it complements what is occurring across the street,” he said.

As all of the partners take the next steps toward making the project a reality, all parties are enthusiastic about helping to bring the sports destination to the finish line.

“This is one of the projects we’re more excited to do what we can to make it happen,” Arnold said. “It’s about giving a great piece of quality of life to the community.”

 

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