RACINE — While many residents are left wondering about the implications of the failed Machinery Row project, others are missing a former Halloween business that left Downtown Racine in the project’s wake.
The popular Factory of Fear, a haunted house previously owned by Racine natives and former co-owners Darchell Rauter and brother Donta Albritton, saw success for seven years.
But during the 2015 Halloween season, Rauter and Albritton were informed that after their lease expired, they would be forced to vacate the building at 615 S. Marquette St. They also relieved the 30 employees who worked for them.
The decision to close the popular destination was connected to the Machinery Row redevelopment project located across the street between Water Street and the Root River. While the Marquette Street location was never a part of the Machinery Row project, the building was part of a package deal.
Former Mayor John Dickert previously confirmed the city wanted to market the Marquette Street building as ready for development, not one with a haunted house that would have to be dismantled and removed.
Two years later, the Machinery Row project is no longer happening and the building remains empty.
Return to Marquette Street not possible
Rauter said she would potentially be interested in reopening the Factory of Fear in Racine if “the right terms” were negotiated, but City Administrator Jim Palenick, who became city administrator in April after previous administrator Tom Friedel retired, says the city has no plans to rent the building.
Palenick explained that because many of the buildings are in such a state of disrepair, it no longer makes economic sense for the city to lease them.
“At this point, the plan for that site is for the city to acquire the properties and demolish the buildings,” said Palenick. Once demolished, the city will attempt to attract a new development for the waterfront property.
Upon hearing that Machinery Row had failed after Rauter had been forced to vacate the building and abandon her business, she was upset.
“I think that they (the city) should let businesses stay open until they have something final that is going to go through,” Rauter said. “It has affected a lot of people — the employees, owners, customers — and all for nothing. They really need to have their ducks lined up.”
“Clearly there were some things that might have been done differently in hindsight,” Palenick said. “But we are focused on the future at this point.”
Life after Factory of Fear
Rauter, who now lives in Franklin and opened a new business in Brookfield called Catch 22 Escape Rooms, 285 N. Janacek Road, in July 2016, said that while her new business is doing well and brings in an average of 25 groups of two to eight people each week, she remains aware of the void that the Factory of Fear left.
In fact, she still regularly receives calls about the business, especially at this time of year.
“I get calls frequently, especially on the weekends until midnight asking when we are open,” Rauter said. “That’s how much of an impact we had on people after not being around for two years in the area.”