Hotel of Terror owner seeks to let voters decide eminent domain declaration made by the Springfield City Council

Published: Mar. 13, 2023 at 7:07 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - The Hotel of Terror has started a petition drive to challenge Springfield’s eminent domain order that would eventually allow the city to tear down the business.

The petition calls for a voting referendum to decide the issue as the Hotel of Terror’s owner is choosing the ballot box over the courtroom for the time being.

“We were getting ready to start with a lawsuit,” explained owner Sterling Mathis. “But if we can get a referendum and put it in front of the people of Springfield I think we’ll do very well with a vote. The majority of people have shown nothing but respect for us and want to help in any way they possibly can. So we’ll see what happens.”

Mathis decided to take a different approach to try and save his downtown Springfield business that’s been a part of his life since he was 16 years old, a span of 45 years dating back to 1978.

“We’re one of the longest-running haunted houses in America right now,” he pointed out. “And this is not a new thing where the city is after my building. They’ve been doing this since the 1990′s. It’s always brought up as part of a park plan and always something my building is not included in as a part of that plan. Back then they were trying to push me off and keep the building but now since they can’t push me off they want to take the building and tear it down.”

So that’s why he’s following in the footsteps of the Galloway neighborhood’s successful zoning fight by collecting signatures to put his future in the hands of voters. Mathis is still waiting to hear from the clerk’s office about how many signatures from registered voters he’ll need but he’s thinking around 2,000 and the Hotel of Terror will be hosting a petition get-together on Tuesday (March 14) from 5-7 p.m. to visit with those who’d like to help.

The Galloway neighborhood successfully got enough signatures to get a voting referendum on an already-approved re-zoning of an apartment complex right across the street from Sequiota Park and voters overturned that re-zoning by a large margin.

Now Mathis is hoping to get enough signatures so that voters can decide on the already-approved eminent domain issue.

The city’s charter is a bit fuzzy on voting referendums but according to a city spokesperson, the attempt by Mathis is allowed under the charter.

“The charter does not exempt condemnations from the referendum process,” said Springfield Communication Coordinator Kristen Milam. “So they can go through that process. It it makes it through the petition process then it would then come back to the city council and they could vote to repeal the ordinance that established the eminent domain or they could decide to put it to a vote of the people.”

The reason the city is wanting to take over the Hotel of Terror land is because it interferes with much-needed repairs to the Main Street bridge (located just 20-feet from the hotel building) and the removal of the building is needed for the Jordan Creek Renewal project.

“If the Hotel of Terror stays in place we would have to redesign the project which we’ve spent years putting into place,” Milam explained. “We look at everything including what structures are already there and what other properties could be impacted by the flow of water. And the whole project, the Main Avenue bridge as well as the new Jordan Creek project, is at its core a flood reduction project. That area is a bottleneck and in order to reduce the flooding on Main Avenue and fix the bridge, we need that structure (the hotel) to no longer be there.”

The Hotel of Terror building is 107 years old but not on the list of historical places and the Main Avenue bridge has been determined to be structurally deficient to the point that trucks weighing more than 10 tons are prohibited.

“CU (city) buses and fire vehicles are not allowed to cross it,” Milam pointed out.

Mathis countered that he’s seen several fire trucks crossing the bridge.

“I’ve looked at bridges all over town and that one’s not in nearly as bad a shape as others I’ve found,” he said. “And the other bridges don’t have any restrictions.”

But Mathis’ main contention is that the city hasn’t bargained in good faith. He says he’s willing to give up the land and move away as long as he could afford the move.

“They’ve offered $550,000,” he said. “I just got an estimate on a roof on my other building (he also owns Dungeons of Doom) and it’s $375,000 just for that. If you look at Dungeons of Doom it’s being going six years and only does 35 percent of what the Hotel of Terror brings in. So to relocate is going to cost me a lot of money and all I want is to not go bankrupt with the move. I think it would cost a little more than a million dollars to move but I told the city I would give them the building and not take any money if they can set me up where I could do the same thing that I’m doing right now. Just get us over there and get us going. But it’s not easy to do what we do. People think we just throw some sheets up and throw a little fake blood on ‘em and we’re good to go. That’s not how this works.”

The city has pointed out that while eminent domain gives them the authorization to seize the property, efforts to pay Mathis a “fair value” for his land will continue.

“Our process includes getting multiple third-party appraisals,” Milam said. “So we’ve already brought in somebody who is independent, not from the city, to appraise the value of that property. We’ve given him multiple fair offers but in order to move forward we went for the eminent domain process which will bring in yet another neutral party panel of judges who will rule on what is fair market value for this particular piece of property.”

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