Supporters of Springfield’s Hotel of Terror haunted house have embarked on a petition drive to try to overturn a Springfield City Council decision to seize the property.
Council unanimously voted Feb. 21 to invoke eminent domain with plans to raze the 334 N. Main Ave. building in order to make repairs to a bridge that runs in front of it and start work on its Renew Jordan Creek project.
Building owner Sterling Mathis, whose family has operated the Hotel of Terror for 45 years, said he just learned about the process to overturn a council decision through a voter referendum. The action would place the eminent domain decision in the hands of Springfield voters. However, to get the referendum on the ballot, a petition with at least 1,560 signatures must be filed within 30 days of the council vote, according to the city charter.
In a Facebook post, Mathis says the petition is intended to “stop the hostile takeover of the Hotel of Terror.” A similar citywide referendum was used to halt a development in Galloway Village in November 2022.
Mathis said if he gets enough signatures, the city may be willing to renegotiate their offer. Right now, he said the city is offering $550,000, which does not include the cost to relocate the Hotel of Terror around the corner to his Dungeons of Doom operation. Mathis said he does not know what the city is willing to pay for relocation, and it is the city’s policy not to disclose terms within an active negotiation, a city spokesperson told Springfield Business Journal. Mathis contends relocation costs would be roughly $1 million.
Mathis has said the attraction is not movable, with a multistory waterfall, a spinning tunnel and a swinging bridge that he built by hand. He explained that the Hotel of Terror relies on a sense of claustrophobia for its scares, and a city code that requires wider walkways is just one factor that makes a simple move untenable.
“You can’t scare them in an open room; they want to run from you, and there’s a chance for people to hurt themselves,” he said.
The petition must be signed by a minimum number of voters, the charter states – that is, 10% of the number of people who voted in the last general municipal election. In that election, held April 6, 2021, 15,600 people cast ballots for the mayor, according to the Greene County clerk’s website, which means the number of signatures needed to reach the ballot in the next municipal election is 1,560. It is too late to get the issue on the April ballot.
The immediate reason for the council action was to make way for repairs to the North Main Avenue bridge over Jordan Creek. The city has set load restrictions for the bridge, which is a block from its City Utilities of Springfield transit center, but according to Paul Blees, right-of-way supervisor, it can no longer accommodate city buses.
The city also intends to move ahead with its Renew Jordan Creek plans, which would restore the above-ground flow of the creek that was sent underground through culverts in the 1930s. Renderings of the project show trails flanking the restored creek, along with amenities and new commercial development. Renew Jordan Creek is included in the city’s Forward SGF comprehensive plan, which was built over many months with the input of numerous city residents and agencies, said Kristen Milam, communication coordinator for the city.
“It’s a flood mitigation measure, but with a great opportunity for placemaking and providing a world-class park space and green space downtown,” Milam said.
She said the Main Avenue bridge and Renew Jordan Creek are two separate projects that will most likely be worked on at the same time. She noted the city is always interested in getting the maximum benefit at the lowest cost and with the smallest number of impacts when it comes to utilities, the stream or other properties.
The bridge is inspected every two years and is in bad disrepair, she said. Without improvements, its load limit could be lowered further, impacting deliveries, or the bridge could be closed entirely.
If a referendum were successful and the building were to remain in place, Milam said a major redesign would be necessary, and that would be costly. Additionally, the flow of Jordan Creek would have to be rerouted.
“It wants to flow where it is,” Milam said.
Mathis said he is not opposed to the city’s plans.
“I just want to be treated fair,” Mathis said. “I’m not standing in front of the building with my arms crossed in front of a line of bulldozers saying, ‘No way, I’m not moving,’” he said. “I’m just trying to be able to survive to move it somewhere else.
“They’re trying to put me out of business.”
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