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Joliet council awards incentives to help bring haunts to women’s prison

The Joliet City Council this week approved a development agreement with a company to help bring haunts to the former site of the women’s prison, located at 401 Woodruff Rd.

Thirteenth Floor Entertainment Group aims to create fun, social experiences. The company has been in business for more than 17 years.

“We do live in the world of horror,” said John Love, one of the founders of Thirteenth Floor Entertainment Group.

Thirteenth Floor Entertainment Group runs several year-round entertainment concepts throughout the nation.

“We think those can layer into this property in subsequent years,” Love said.

The city had entered into an intergovernmental agreement with the state of Illinois in late 2017 for the leasing of the old Joliet prison and the nearby women’s prison.

An attempt to find a vendor to put the women’s prison to use failed in 2017, officials said. A request for proposal was released by the city in November 2018 to solicit development opportunities for the property, officials said.

“We received some interesting inquiries,” Interim City Manager Steve Jones said. “We had a number of haunt-type entities, along with a distillery from Tennessee, but low and behold the only firm that submitted a firm proposal was Thirteenth Floor Entertainment Group.”

City staff put together a development agreement, which includes a three-year lease that calls for payment in the amount of $20,000 for Year No. 1, $25,000 for Year No. 2, and $30,000 for Year No. 3.

In addition, there is a revenue sharing component tied to the deal. It requires the developer to pay the city $1 for every 10,000 visitors beginning Sept. 1 for a period of 12 months. The agreement also stipulates the developer must pay $1 for every guest in the 24 months that follow thereafter.

Thirdly, the city intends to waive the developer’s building permit fees.

“They are responsible for all the interior build-out,” Jones said. “They have to have a work plan on all those property improvements to us by March 31 and that’ll include things like improvements to the plumbing system, HVAC, electric, windows and doors.”

The project did not receive approval without some opposition.

Councilman Larry Hug, acknowledging that Thirteenth Floor Entertainment Group is a nationally recognized company, said he cannot vote yes to approve the development agreement.

“The economic development, or the development package as they call it, portion of it was never vetted by the economic development committee, so we have no recommendation,” he said.

The city’s prison committee reviewed the project at its meeting last week.

Hug said he believes the prison committee focused on vetting the project’s use and went on to provide a positive recommendation of the incentives.

Hug was the lone dissenting vote.

Thirteenth Floor Entertainment Group intends to open the venue to the public by Sept. 1.

The company wants to invest $500,000 into the project to pay for improvements, which include, among other things, sprinkler systems and fire alarms.

Love said they’ve done due diligence on the project, and they’re excited about it.

“What we do is buzzworthy,” Love said. “We’re event promoters. We believe in high-production value events. We build amazing, themed over-the-top immersive environments. That’s a core tenet of our business.”

Love said the company is fortunate to have a big spotlight thanks, in part, to past press coverage.

“We believe we can bring that spotlight to this property given its unique nature,” he said.

Mayor Bob O’Dekirk took time to welcome Thirteenth Floor Entertainment Group to the city.

“From my standpoint as mayor, this had been a blighted property for a long time,” he said. “I’m glad to see private investment going into this.”

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