Springfield City Clerk Anita Cotter reported yesterday she was still at work verifying signatures on petitions turned in by Hotel of Terror Owner Sterling Mathis. The petition calls for a citywide vote on the planned seizure of the downtown haunted house through eminent domain.
Mathis said he turned in over 2,100 petition signatures, and Cotter said she is about halfway through the verification process. She said the necessary number is 1,568 verified signatures of city residents to allow a referendum to overturn Springfield City Council’s eminent domain vote on Feb. 21.
Cotter said she has 20 days to verify the signatures that were submitted March 23, and though she is halfway through the process, that doesn’t necessarily mean she is halfway through the time needed to check each name against city records.
“It depends on how difficult it is to read and find the address,” she said. “With some, you put a name in, and it pops right up.”
If the petition is found to be sufficient, she will notify council, which will have 30 days either to vote to repeal the ordinance they passed declaring eminent domain or to call for a special election.
The last day to certify ballot measures for the August election is May 30, so the timing of what comes next could result in either an August or November ballot.
Cotter said if 1,568 signatures are not reached, she will contact Mathis and let him know why the petition is not sufficient. Mathis would then have 10 days to amend the petition, during which time he can drum up more signatures.
If that happens, Cotter will have five more days to certify the petition.
Mathis said he feels confident about the petition signatures he submitted. He added that instead of having a special election, the city ought to repeal its eminent domain vote and return to the negotiating table.
Mathis insists he has a profitable turnkey business that has more value than the building alone, and the cost of moving the Hotel of Terror’s contents to his other haunted attraction needs to be covered. Additionally, his other building, which operates a few blocks away from the hotel as the Dungeons of Doom haunted attraction, would require a new roof at $374,000 and a sprinkler system at $150,000 to incorporate both haunted houses, he said.
Mathis said he has an April 6 meeting with some city staff, who will tour the Hotel of Terror.
“None of them had ever been there,” he said, though he noted one of them told him his kids love the place.
He believes a successful negotiation is possible.
“It’s not about the money,” he said. “I’m willing to move, but I can’t be put out of business to do it.”
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