Photo by Curt Yeomans
The owner of Frightmore Haunted House claims he can’t open the business’ doors in Morrow because the city won't give him an operating license. He accused the head of Morrow's economic development office of telling him the haunted house wasn't welcome in the city.
MORROW — Morrow’s head of economic development says a haunted house — which donates a portion of its proceeds to help care for sick children — is not welcome in the city.
Brian Rayl, owner of Frightmore Haunted House, has accused Morrow Planning and Economic Development Director Michael McLaughlin of stonewalling his efforts to open his business this year.
Rayl also said McLaughlin has even suggested Frightmore move to unincorporated Clayton County, rather than stay in the city.
“He blatantly told me, ‘We don’t want your business here, move two blocks up the street,’ ” Rayl said.
Frightmore is a seasonal business which has been located in the Southlake Pavilion since 2010, said Rayl. However, he said McLaughlin is making him file more paperwork — including an architectural plan — which he never had to submit before.
McLaughlin doesn’t deny telling Rayl the haunted house was not welcome in the city. He said the comment was taken out of context, without explaining what the context was.
“There is no hold-up,” said McLaughlin. “I made that statement on the basis of him meeting me outside a community meeting on Thursday [Sept. 20], two days after he submitted it.”
McLaughlin’s office is intended to grow the city’s economy by creating an environment where businesses want to move to the city. However, Rayl paints a picture of an office which seems to be hostile toward people who want to bring their businesses to Morrow. He said owners of a temporary Halloween costume shop which opened next to the haunted house last year decided not to return to the city because they had a hard time dealing with the economic development office.
Rayl said the office last year tried to restrict the size of a sign he wanted to hang on the outside of the storefront where Frightmore is located. He was forced to hang a banner which was barely visible from the street.
Rayl ultimately got special permission from City Council to hang a larger sign on the building.
“Everybody I’ve dealt with in the city has been great to work with, except for that office,” said Rayl.
The haunted house operates as a for-profit business, Rayl said, but it gives a portion of its proceeds to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
Frightmore was scheduled to open Thursday night. However, Rayl said he couldn’t let people in because he does not have an operating license.
He said he’s also had to submit architectural plans to the economic development office, which has to send the plan to the city’s fire marshall for review. After the fire marshall reviews it, it has to go back to the economic development department for its own review, said Rayl.
“I am unsure of why an architectural plan [requirement] has been put into place on temporary structures,” said Rayl.
McLaughlin told council members it usually takes two weeks for a business to get approval to open in the city. He said applications must first go through a “Safe Built” review, then through a review by the city’s fire marshall and finally through a review by the economic development department’s staff.
He said Rayl filed his paperwork for Frightmore a week and a half ago.
“We’re at one week and it has been making it through the process,” said McLaughlin. “We put it in the queue and currently we have nine permits that we doing reviews on, for either this level or more significant construction renovations.”
McLaughlin said the same process was in place last year when Rayl applied for a license to operate in the city. However, Rayl said it took the city only “a couple of days” last year to review his safety plans and grant him a license.
He said there should not be an architectural problem because Frightmore is “essentially live theater” with movable walls separating sets.
“We built the place two years ago with some minor changes in between [then and now], but we didn’t have to do any of these hoops,” said Rayl. “This year, he’s got great fiery hoops, it seems.”