Exercise in economics - LancasterOnline: Business

Exercise in economics

Proposed East Hempfield sports complex packs multimillion-dollar punch for area, developer says.

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Posted: Sunday, March 18, 2012 12:06 am | Updated: 5:05 pm, Thu Oct 3, 2013.

East Hempfield Township gets $13,500 a year in taxes from a vacant, sprawling distribution center just north of Route 283.

But if a plan to convert the site into a sports complex becomes a reality, East Hempfield would get $50,000-plus for a building permit alone.

And that's just the start of the economic benefits from Spooky Nook Sports, a proposed indoor-outdoor facility at 2913 Spooky Nook Road.

As described by developer Sam Beiler, Spooky Nook Sports would fuel the economy in many ways.

More jobs. More hotel bookings. More work for contractors. More orders for suppliers.

And, beyond the bottom-line benefits, more social and athletic opportunities for youth, adults and families.

"It's foundationally important to me ... that the sports complex is viewed as a good neighbor and a strong contributor to families, the community and the county," Beiler said at a recent township meeting.

Beiler and his associates itemized a number of positive impacts that they say would result from the $26 million regional facility:

• Spooky Nook Sports would spend about $15 million with contractors and suppliers on renovations.

• Those contractors would hire about 100 people to do the work.

• The upgrades likely would result in Spooky Nook Sports paying more property tax to the township, school district and county than the $232,000 paid by the prior owner.

• The upgrades would raise the value of other properties in the area, too.

• Spooky Nook Sports itself would hire nearly 100 people to staff the sports complex.

• Out-of-town athletes coming to Spooky Nook Sports and their families would spend about $25 million in the first year of operation.

That sum includes hotel rooms, meals, food and shopping.

While prompting these contributions to the community, Spooky Nook Sports wouldn't seek to take anything out, Beiler indicated.

The facility, nicknamed "The Nook," would be entirely financed with private money.

No taxpayer-funded aid is being sought, he said.

Beiler, of Lancaster, is the former owner of Auntie Anne's, a global soft-pretzel chain with 1,100 locations.

Since selling the company in November 2010, he has become active as a real estate investor and developer.

Not only would Spooky Nook Sports be his biggest project to date, it would be what he calls the largest facility of its kind in North America.

To make the venture possible, Beiler is asking East Hempfield to switch the 65-acre site's zoning from general industrial to highway commercial.

The township supervisors are expected to announce their decision at their meeting Wednesday, April 18.

The 594,000-square-foot warehouse, opened in 1977, was built by Armstrong World Industries as a flooring distribution center.

In fact, the sign at the front entrance still says that.

In April 2006, Armstrong sold the property to New Jersey investors for $20 million and vacated the site.

It has been largely empty since, which quickly led to big problems for the investors.

They sold it a little more than a year later for $1, in lieu of foreclosure, to a company affiliated with its mortgage lender.

Beiler then bought the property from that affiliate for $11.25 million in December.

As Spooky Nook Sports, the facility would be never empty, not largely empty, judging from what Beiler and his colleagues said.

Since the building is roughly the size of three Walmart superstores and the ceiling goes as high as 36 feet, there's room for plenty.

Indoor athletic facilities would include:

Eight courts each for volleyball, tennis and basketball, plus two for futsol; a rockclimbing wall; a rope course; a speed and agility training area; a high-nutrition concession stand; batting cages; pitching tunnels; and a fielding area.

Also indoors would be a pro shop, a fitness area (with aerobics, yoga and weight training), a parents lounge and offices for physical therapy and orthopedic practices.

Outside would be 11 artificial and grass fields for football, lacrosse, soccer, softball, baseball and field hockey - some covered by a dome in the winter.

Developing these indoor and outdoor athletic and training aspects of the center would cost about $10 million.

"This will be the hub for youth sports organizations in the Northeast region," Beiler said.

Also inside, in about 100,000 square feet, would be a family entertainment center.

Costing another $5 million to develop, this area would have electric go-carts, an arcade, inflated bouncing play areas, mini-bowling and other amusements.

The purpose of this area is to make a visit to Spooky Nook Sports a fun time for the whole family, not just for the athletes.

Spooky Nook Sports forecasts it would hold 84 events its first year, drawing 272,000 players, coaches, trainers and spectators.

But it also would be a site for teams to practice and individuals to train.

Beiler's plan drew an almost entirely positive response from neighbors at the March 7 supervisors meeting.

Said Lars White of 2910 Spooky Nook Road: "My wife and I are very much for this. We think it's a great thing for the neighborhood."

Also speaking in favor of the proposal were Tom Baldrige, who heads The Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry, and Chris Barrett, who heads the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Barrett noted that Spooky Nook Sports would be a welcome shot in the arm for the county's lodging industry.

The complex is expected to generate 58,000 room-nights at local hotels its first year.

That first year of operations could be soon if township approvals are won in the near future.

Spooky Nook Sports hopes its indoor sports facilities can open in January 2013, its family entertainment center in June 2013 and its outdoor fields in 2014.

Beiler said the idea for Spooky Nook Sports grew out of conversations with his children's tennis and volleyball coaches about a lack of indoor courts.

At the same time, he noticed the immense popularity of local youth-sports events such as the Hempfield Classic soccer tourney and MLK volleyball tourney.

The family component of Spooky Nook Sports, Beiler said, stemmed from his personal experience, too.

As he, his wife, Melody, and their three children have gone to tourneys and games across the Northeast, they observed that younger siblings can only sit and watch their older brother or sister so much. They need something else to do.

Beiler is relying on more than his own experience, though.

He has retained two consulting firms, Sports Facility Advisors of Clearwater, Fla., and Pinnacle Sports Advisors of Madison, Wis., for guidance.

They, in turn, have interviewed or met with more than 130 users of existing facilities and sports organizations to learn their wishes.

Joining Beiler in the management of Spooky Nook Sports are Steve Goris and Ben Halverson.

Goris, chief operating officer and general manager, is a University of Toledo graduate with experience in country club, hotel and hospitality management.

He's head volleyball coach at Lancaster Mennonite High School and assistant coach at Millersville University.

Halverson, marketing and sport development director, is an IMG Tennis Academy graduate and international business specialist.

He also was the personal tennis coach to Princess Diana and her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry.

Business editor Tim Mekeel contributed to this story.

doconnor@lnpnews.com

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