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Nation's largest indoor sports facility takes shape

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A group led by Spooky Nook Sports founder Sam Beiler, third from right, congregates in the lobby of the expansive sports facility under construction in East Hempfield Township, Lancaster County. Photo/Amy Spangler
A group led by Spooky Nook Sports founder Sam Beiler, third from right, congregates in the lobby of the expansive sports facility under construction in East Hempfield Township, Lancaster County. Photo/Amy Spangler

About halfway through a tour of Spooky Nook Sports, the dizzyingly vast new facility being built inside a 14-acre former Armstrong World Industries Inc. warehouse, marketing coordinator Stephanie Jordan points to a long wall in the distance to your left.

This huge space you're in, with its dozens of athletic courts, its climbing walls, pitching lanes and batting cages, dance and yoga studios, fitness center, retail store, food court, video game arcade, conference rooms and administrative offices?

All of that takes up less than half the building, she explains. On the other side of the wall is the other half, raw space awaiting development in phase two.

Yep. It's big. Spooky Nook Sports is shaping up to be, as promised, the largest indoor sports facility in North America.

Crews have been working seven days a week, converting the abandoned industrial space on Spooky Nook Road just off Route 283 in East Hempfield Township into a gleaming, state-of-the-art athletic and entertainment complex.

The bulk of the work has been done during the past 20 weeks, said Spooky Nook's founder, Sam Beiler. About 165 workers are in the building on a typical day, he said.

With only a couple of exceptions, all of the suppliers and contractors are local, he said.

Phase one will wrap up in late spring or early summer, Beiler and Jordan said. The site's "soft opening" phase has begun, with select private events taking place. Between 4,000 and 5,000 people showed up in March for the "Irish Rumble" volleyball tournament, Jordan said.

In May, the site will host a women's expo put on by Lancaster General Health and On-Line Publisher's Inc., publishers of Business Woman magazine, Jordan said.

A grand opening is planned, but the date and details have not been finalized, Jordan said. A broad slate of offerings is planned for summer.

The Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau is excited, said bureau President Kathleen Frankford, who toured Spooky Nook recently with the bureau's managing director of sales, Mike Messina.

"There's nothing like it in the country," she said. "They're going to be a great partner."

The economic impact of sports teams traveling to Lancaster County for events has grown from $10 million in 2008 to between $40 million and $50 million a year, she said. Spooky Nook will boost that number further.

Initial projections suggested Spooky Nook would contribute about 58,000 room-nights per year to the local hospitality economy, Beiler said. January's announcement that USA Field Hockey, the sport's national governing body and sponsor of the women's national team, will relocate its headquarters from Colorado to Spooky Nook increased those projections to 100,000 room-nights, he said.

Beiler, the former CEO of pretzel chain Auntie Anne's Inc., bought the warehouse for $11.25 million in December 2011 and is Spooky Nook's sole investor, according to company information. The commitment for phases one and two will total about $30 million, he said.

The 600,000-square-foot building sits on a 65-acre site that is being configured to accommodate outdoor sports fields and parking. The nearby Root's Country Market and Auction Inc. has been providing temporary overflow parking for large events, Jordan said.

Beiler purchased the warehouse through Shadow Lawn Enterprises, a company he founded in 2010 that buys and rehabilitates distressed properties. An affiliated company, Spooky Nook Sports Inc., is handling marketing and operations.

Spooky Nook employs about 20 office and marketing staff, Jordan said. Staffing the complex itself will raise that number to about 100 full-time-equivalent positions in phase one, with another 75 positions or so to follow when phase two is complete, Beiler said.

Early this month, Spooky Nook held a "hiring hall," Jordan said. About 270 people turned up to apply for 15 to 20 jobs, she said. Spooky Nook also collected resumes for future positions.

The facility aims to offer something for the whole family. Parents who are members can drop off small children in the child care area while they work out, Jordan said. Younger brothers or sisters can play in the video arcade while their siblings compete in volleyball or basketball tournaments.

Separate entrances will help with crowd control and help ensure members have easy access to facilities even during large events, marketing assistant Abby Wise said.

Orthopedic Associates of Lancaster is opening a branch at the site that will cater to Spooky Nook patrons but also be open to the public.

"It's a great fit," Beiler said.

Plans for phase two will depend, in part, on which elements of phase one prove to be the biggest draws, Jordan said. A portion of the space will be devoted to USA Field Hockey's permanent offices and training facilities.

Spooky Nook plans to market itself to business customers for conferences, exhibitions and team-building events, Jordan said. In addition to the conference rooms, most of the sport courts are suitable for use as exhibition space, she said.

Spooky Nook is marketing itself locally and regionally at first, then nationally, Jordan said.

Robert "Chef Bob" Rothfus Jr., the executive chef at the Lancaster County Convention Center and Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square, has signed on as Spooky Nook's food and beverage manager, and he is putting together a full banquet menu, Beiler said.

A 100-room hotel is planned as the third and final phase of the warehouse conversion, Beiler said.

Spooky Nook engaged two consulting firms that specialize in sports centers as it developed its business model and spoke with nearly every athletic director in the Lancaster-Lebanon high school sports league, Beiler said.

"The youth sports market is huge," he said. "We're very confident in the model."

Only the beginning

Only the beginning

Here is a partial list of Spooky Nook Sports’ “phase one” facilities:

• Adventure center, featuring the “Clip n’ Climb” climbing arena

• Arcade/Family entertainment center

• Baseball and softball training area

• Climbing and bouldering center

• Conference rooms, board rooms and executive lounge

• Dance and workout studios

• Fitness center

• Food court and smoothie bar

• Multipurpose AstroTurf “field house”

• Multipurpose “sport court” area

• Orthopedic Associates of Lancaster office

• Party rooms

• Six tennis courts

• Sporting goods store

• Ten basketball/volleyball courts

Source: Spooky Nook Sports

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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