Error forces escape room to relocate
Business will move to Market East Plaza
Bill Wright and Vanessa Espinal opened Exodus Escape Rooms last year in a building on Main Street, but according to city officials, their business should have never been allowed to open there.
Planning Director Maureen Feeney Roser told council on Monday that the city made an administrative error in allowing Exodus Escape Rooms to open at 284 E. Main St., near the intersection of Tyre Avenue. The building, which is zoned BLR (limited business residential), most recently housed an accountant’s office.
Roser said the business license for Exodus Escape Rooms was incorrectly processed as an “office” use under city regulations because its state license classified the business as a “professional service,” which is permitted in BLR. Since then, she said, the city reviewed the business’ work plan and operations and determined it is actually an “indoor recreational use,” which is not allowed in BLR.
Inside escape rooms, corporate clients and members of the public are locked in a room and given a set amount of time to use puzzles, brainteasers and other clues to find a way to escape. Employees watch the action through a surveillance system and can feed hints to the participants as needed.
When Exodus Escape Rooms opened in August 2015, it featured five rooms with themes based on popular movies and television shows, including “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “National Treasure,” “Sherlock Holmes” and “Shawshank Redemption.”
Wright said in September that he and Espinal decorated each room and wrote all the clues themselves, a process that took three months.
On Monday, Roser admitted that processing the business license as an “office” use was an unusual mistake.
“Once they were open we were like, ‘ Whoa, what is that?’” she said, adding that the city has allowed the business to remain open until the issue is resolved.
Roser said Wright and Espinal were going to appeal the zoning determination to the Board of Adjustment, but ultimately found a new space for their business in Market East Plaza, which is located behind the current location and is zoned BC (general business). Under Newark code, BC allows indoor recreational uses as a conditional use.
Council voted unanimously Monday to grant Wright and Espinal a special-use permit to relocate their business to suites 125 and 132 in Market East Plaza. They will soon open six or seven themed rooms in the new 3,200-square-foot space.
Wright said he expects the new location to open in approximately two months. He emphasized that the current building will remain open until then.
Scott Ciancio and Kate Farnan read a clue at Exodus Escape Rooms shortly after the business opened last year. Due to an administrative error made by the city, the business has to move to a new location.