Er­ror forces es­cape room to re­lo­cate

Busi­ness will move to Mar­ket East Plaza

Newark Post - - Local News - By KARIE SIM­MONS ksim­mons@ches­pub.com

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.

NE­WARK POST FILE PHOTO BY JOSH SHANNON

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.

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