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Hotel of Terror: In a bid to buy more time for negotiation, Springfield City Council repeals its earlier eminent domain decision

Springfield city government is trying to use eminent domain to acquire the Hotel of Terror — photographed Feb. 6, 2023 — as part of its plans to spiff up the Jordan Creek area in order to attract downtown investment and address stormwater flooding issues.
Gregory Holman/KSMU
On May 8, 2023 Springfield City Council repealed an eminent domain ordinance approved in February, in a bid to buy more time to negotiate a purchase of the Hotel of Terror property — photographed Feb. 6, 2023 — as part of its plans to improve the Jordan Creek area and the Main Avenue Bridge.

After a three-month saga, Springfield City Council voted Monday night to repeal a February ordinance allowing eminent domain to buy the Hotel of Terror property downtown.

The Hotel of Terror has been a much-loved Halloween attraction since 1978, drawing 15,000 visitors per year, according to its owner. But in recent times the City of Springfield has wanted to remove the building in order to add greenspace downtown and repair the Main Avenue Bridge — which can no longer handle traffic weighing more than 10 tons. The idea is to draw more business downtown.

In February, Council decided to use eminent domain to force a purchase of the property, prompting public backlash.

Hotel of Terror owner Sterling Mathis claims the city’s most recent offer for the property, $550,000, isn’t high enough. He told Council he needs $375,000 to fix the roof and another $125,000 to install sprinklers at a new location, before installing any Halloween amenities.

After a successful signature campaign last month, Mathis and his followers forced Council to choose whether to outright repeal their eminent domain ordinance targeting Hotel of Terror, or send the question to voters at the next available election on August 8th. An election with just one city ballot item would cost roughly $250,000, according to reporting by the Springfield News-Leader.

In a 9-to-0 decision, Council on Monday repealed their earlier eminent domain ordinance, saying they wanted to buy time to negotiate a purchase of the Hotel of Terror property.

Mayor Ken McClure summed up Council's consensus in remarks addressed at Mathis, the Hotel of Terror owner: “So let me encourage you, let me encourage the city, to continue to negotiate. We want you to be treated fairly; we want the city to be treated fairly. In doing that, I think we’ll end up with a better Hotel of Terror, once that happens, that’s certainly the goal.”

The Hotel of Terror confrontation is the latest in a series of recent neighborhood-level debates around Springfield.

Last fall, residents of the Galloway neighborhood successfully supported a citywide referendum against plans for a big complex of apartments and businesses. Currently, University Heights neighbors near the center of town oppose a plan for commercial structures on a busy corner across from Mercy Hospital.

Gregory Holman is a KSMU reporter and editor focusing on public affairs.