JOLIET – The first promising news at the old Joliet Correctional Center since it closed in 2002 got messy this week.
Evil Intentions’ announcement that it would open a haunted house at the old prison on Collins Street by Halloween first was labeled premature at a Monday City Council meeting.
Then at a Tuesday meeting, operators of two local haunted houses argued that they should have a chance to make a proposal for the historic prison.
Mike Fitzpatrick, owner of Evil Intentions, did as much apologizing Tuesday before the City Council as he did promoting the Elgin-based company’s plans for the prison.
“We got our dates mixed up and kind of jumped the gun a little bit,” Fitzpatrick said of last week’s announcement. “That was our mistake.”
Fitzpatrick said the company announced its plans last week because it thought the City Council meeting to approve the sublease was occurring last week.
Council member Pat Mudron had criticized Evil Intentions for announcing that it was coming to Joliet before the council even voted on the sublease. Mudron also argued that local companies should get a chance to bid on the sublease.
The narrow 5-4 vote approving the Evil Intentions’ sublease Tuesday showed it was no sure thing.
Complicating matters for Evil Intentions was the appearance of a group from Joliet who wanted two weeks to develop a proposal of its own.
Jason Seneker, part of the Joliet group that runs an Aurora haunted house called Basement of the Dead, said the group wanted a chance to get inside the prison and see what it could do.
“We haven’t even had the opportunity to wander around and look at it,” he told the council.
Seneker had expressed the group’s interest in the prison to Mudron last year as the city considered possible ownership of the prison. The city in December agreed to lease the prison from the Illinois Department of Corrections for five years, making it possible to bring in ventures such as Evil Intentions.
But Mudron said he never told city staff about the local group’s interest.
In the meantime, staff had begun negotiating with Evil Intentions about going into the prison.
City officials said Evil Intentions’ interest was a motivating factor in Joliet moving forward with a lease, since it appeared a potential moneymaking operation actually could be put into the deteriorating facility.
“It led to the city really accelerating the process of going to the state [for the lease],” Joliet economic development director Steve Jones said.
Jones said Evil Intentions first approached the city in August. He said delays could frustrate the city’s efforts to get a haunted house operating in the prison by Halloween because of the need to renovate the building.
“I think what’s best for the city is to get something going now,” Jones said.
Paul Siegel, who owns the Statesville Haunted Prison in Crest Hill, also told the council he would have liked an opportunity to check out the prison.
Siegel noted that the decision to put Evil Intentions there was being made before a new City Council prison committee even held its first meeting.
“The council people I spoke to who are on that committee did not know about this decision,” Siegel said.
That committee includes Bettye Gavin and Terry Morris, who voted for the Evil Intentions sublease, and Don Dickinson who voted against it.