Springfield, MO

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City Beat: City seeks to seize Hotel of Terror building

Staff recommended removal of 3-story structure

Posted online

The Hotel of Terror, a haunted attraction that has been active since 1978, may face demolition if Springfield City Council votes to take control of the property through eminent domain.

Council heard a proposal to seize and condemn the 334 N. Main Ave. building at its meeting Feb. 6. Chris Dunnaway, principal engineer for the city, recommended the three-story structure be removed to make way for the Renew Jordan Creek project, which plans to bring the covered-over Jordan Creek to the surface and create development opportunities around it.

Invoking eminent domain would allow the city to address structural problems with a Main Avenue bridge that is in poor condition, Dunnaway said. Currently, vehicles over 10 tons may not use the bridge, and that impacts city buses and fire trucks, he noted. The bridge is also too small and results in flooding over Main Avenue, he said.

“The Main Avenue bridge replacement project will construct a new, wider bridge, increasing its capacity for conveying flood waters, thereby reducing flood elevations upstream and improving safety with water flowing over Main Avenue less frequently,” Dunnaway said.

He said the project is not possible without the city acquiring the Hotel of Terror property. Additionally, Dunnaway said the city has been actively acquiring properties for the Renew Jordan Creek project and has acquired all of them except the Hotel of Terror building. The owner has rejected multiple purchase offers, Dunnaway said.

The Halloween attraction is in the city’s former Manuel Hotel, built to serve railroad passengers in 1915, according to information from the History Museum on the Square Inc. It changed its name to Plaza Hotel in the 1930s and to Hotel Texas by 1940.

Appearing before council, Hotel of Terror owner Sterling Mathis said he is amenable to selling his property to the city and moving the attraction to another site, but he needs a better offer from the city.

“I couldn’t buy two vehicles with what they offered me in 2019,” he said.

Mathis said the Hotel of Terror has been bringing people downtown for something fun to do since the 1970s.

He added that he likes to build haunted attractions and has been doing so since he was 16 years old.

“I want to continue to do the haunted houses, because that’s what I love to do,” he said. “We love building stuff that scares people. It’s fun, it’s safe; it’s a great, fun time.”

He requested that council table the measure so an agreement could be worked out.

Spokesperson Cora Scott said the city would not disclose the amount offered to Mathis, as it does not discuss offers still in negotiation, but she provided a clarification.

“The city is committed to negotiating in good faith in the process of acquiring this property,” she said. “If the city proceeds to court, the fair market value will be determined by three court-appointed, unbiased commissioners.”

According to Greene County assessor records, the 9,000-square-foot building has a commercial market value of $142,700.

Eminent domain is also proposed at 608 W. Kerr St. for an unrelated stormwater infrastructure project in the Doling Park neighborhood. The homeowner is deceased without a specified beneficiary, and the project would install new pipes and inlets on the property to reduce flooding in nearby streets.

Council will vote on the measures Feb. 21.

Doling development questioned
Residents of the Doling Neighborhood expressed concerns about a development that has been proposed for 6.4 acres at 739 W. Talmage St.

Council held the first reading and hearing for a bill to rezone the property to a planned development from single-family residential. Developer Mike Stalzer has proposed the adaptive reuse of an unused gymnasium, the Dr. Harry E. Vickery Fieldhouse, owned by Baptist Temple of Springfield into a 33-unit apartment building and the construction of 22 detached single-family dwellings on the remaining 4 acres.

The plan also calls for a dog park, indoor fitness area, laundry, pavilion and grill.

Neighborhood resident Laurie Brotherton was concerned about the scope of the project.

“By making a 33-unit apartment building and crowding 22 houses into this property, that will more than double the population of the neighbors in that adjacent neighborhood, and I believe it would actually lower all of our property values,” she said.

She expressed worry about traffic increasing by Watkins Elementary School, across the street from the entrance to the proposed development, as well as increased traffic on the other narrow roads of the Doling neighborhood.

Anna Phillips, another neighborhood resident, asked council to postpone the vote and consider an alternative idea for the site: an agricultural community center and urban farm to be directed by the nonprofit United Community Change. Council did not discuss her suggestion.

Resident Fred Sherwood worried about drainage from the development.

“It’s going to flood into my backyard, basically, and then proceed downward to my neighbors,” he said.

Mike Stalzer, who proposed the development, said a city traffic study stated no improvements were needed to roads for the development, and his plans call for stormwater retention to have 120% more capacity than required.

He added that in response to neighbor concerns, he reduced the new development from 42 townhomes to 22 single-family dwellings, which meets the city’s residential zoning requirements.

Stalzer said Baptist Temple owns the property, and if the rezoning passes at the council meeting on Feb. 21, he will exercise his option to buy it.

Other action items

  • The city’s Finance Department presented a proposal to adjust some city fees following a scheduled evaluation of 108 fees across multiple departments. Seven fees would be reduced, 15 would have no change and 80 would be increased to generate an estimated $735,000 annually into city coffers. The evaluated funds would bring in $14.5 million in total projected revenue, with 83% of that amount coming from sanitary landfill tipping fees. Council is scheduled to vote on the measure Feb. 21.
  • Springfield City Code was updated to allow the Springfield-Greene County Park Board to enforce alcohol use at park sites. Alcohol is allowed by permit, and the update provides for enforcement outside of permitted use. This measure also closes all parks between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. unless otherwise posted.
  • Council OK’d a series of 3% sewer rate increases each year from 2023 to 2025, beginning July 1. Wholesale rates for nearby communities that use city treatment services will rise 8% per year. The increases will pay for the city’s compliance with a consent judgment to allow it to comply with Missouri Department of Natural Resources clean water standards.

Council also allowed the city of Battlefield to expand its annexation boundary by taking over areas that are not well served by Springfield’s wastewater collection system.

  • As a backstop in case state and federal grant applications are not approved, council approved a state revolving fund loan of up to $13 million to be paired with a $1.5 million grant from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources for construction of a 0.3 mile stretch of the Renew Jordan Creek project between Main and Boonville avenues.

The loan carries a 1.1% interest rate and would be repaid through the city’s quarter-cent capital improvement sales tax.


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