Morton Grove’s Plan Commission gave the owners of Fear City Haunted House a strong vote of support on an application that would allow for new types of entertainment to occur in the 40,000-square-foot warehouse.
Charles Grendys, one of the owners, said he was granted a special use permit based around operating a haunted house in an industrial area. Grendys is now hoping to have a more vague permit so he can rent the large lobby for shows, operate a small-scale haunted house for private parties, or rent the whole building to police organizations that do tactical training.
The request for a new permit is partially because of a need to make more money and partially because it’s the practical thing to do, Grendys said.
At his Sept. 16 hearing, Grendys mentioned a new possible use: charitable poker events. Grendys applied for and was granted a charitable games license through the state and is now waiting for Rockford Charitable Games, the primary vendor in the Midwest, to decide if they find his 9,000-square-foot lobby appealing.
“Whether we’re talking charity poker, tactical training or private parties, we don’t even know if we’ll get any of it,” Grendys said. “We just want to know we can before we invest our time in hearing proposals from prospective clients.”
A representative from a tactical training and gaming organization accompanied Grendys to the hearing to confirm his preliminary interest in renting the whole haunted house.
Commissioner Andy Shimanski said he was opposed to groups of people entering the building and having a “free for all” because it would pose safety risks.
Grendys said all the recreational airsoft groups create teams of 10 to 15 people and embark on certain missions or simulations.
“It would be very structured and, actually, the participants police the games pretty well,” Grendys said. “As of now, nobody in Illinois holds war games inside a building. We would be the first if this works out. I anticipate games like ‘capture the flag’ and ‘hold the train.’”
Other parts of the haunted house set include a convenience store, butcher shop and a multi-room medical facility.
Aside from the life-like scenes, Fear City also has motion sensors that trigger sounds and moving objects.
“Airsoft involves lifelike guns that shoot small plastic pellets using small bursts of air,” Grendys said. “They’re completely safe and don’t damage our sets. With our maze, these games or training exercises would be as close to the real world as you can get.”
Representatives from a handful of municipal and federal agencies have reached out to Fear City with questions about training in the warehouse, Grendys said.
Nancy Radzevich, the village’s director of community and economic development, said the main concern with entertainment venues is always parking, but she said Fear City itself has never come close to filling its parking lot and she doesn’t anticipate any new event would generate equal traffic.
“We are a haunted house first and foremost,” Grendys said. “We don’t want any new venture to jeopardize our haunted house, so we’re very receptive to feedback from neighbors and city staff. Plus, we know that a poor parking situation would be a turn off to our customers.”
Commissioners briefly asked about liquor use in the warehouse, but Grendys quickly said he doesn’t have a liquor license and doesn’t want one.
“We could make a lot of money by getting alcohol sponsors, but my target audience is high school kids and I don’t want that liability,” Grendys said. “We lose money when we turn intoxicated people away, but I stand by that decision. If anyone who rents our facility wants alcohol, they will hire local caterers that have licenses with you and you can talk to them if you have concerns.”
John Bartholomeu, a nearby homeowner, attended the hearing and told commissioners that Fear City is a good neighbor but he is opposed to gambling in town and the extra traffic on weekdays.
Grendys reassured Bartholomeu that Illinois only allows eight poker games per location per year because anything more is considered a casino. If the charity organization is interested, Grendys continued, they would have their own security and most of the patrons would be well-mannered supporters of a cause.
The plan commission unanimously supported Grendys’s application and the request, and endorsement, will go before village trustees in late October or early November.
“It’s hard to understand how you’ve survived only operating in October,” Plan Commission Chairman Ron Farkas said. “The activities you’ve described make sense and in no way I can see will go against our requirements for this permit.”