Fall 2018, by Andrew Gipson, Chairman of the Association for Room Escapes of North America and President of The Escape, OKC
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Opening an escape game is an exciting proposition. It’s a growing industry that provides a live experience for its customers. Before you can open your doors and start locking people up you have to navigate the minefield of starting your business. Building codes, zoning, parking and proper safety measures can all slow down or even derail the opening of your escape game. I’ve talked with many escape game owners who, like me, have faced everything from aggressive fire marshals to being required to change city zoning code to even having a city shut down a dozen escape games overnight due to a city council making a change to parking lot requirements. Almost all the delays you may come across are preventable with the correct planning and experience. This is the first part in a multi-part guide of some of the best practices and helpful information on getting your escape game business up and running. We’ll cover a range of topics from game design and working with contractors to dealing with city officials unfamiliar with the concept of escape games.
Finding the right building for your business can be a daunting task. The standard business issues are all there: you’ll have to balance budget, size, visibility and location. Escape games have an added level of complexity in zoning. Building zones are how cities classify what types of businesses or homes can go in a specific area. Every city does their zoning differently. Some cities have just two zones: commercial and residential. Other cities will have dozens of zones and zone subcategories. People commonly assume that a simple commercial zoning is going to work for their escape game. In some cities that might be the case, but others will have codes for Indoor Recreation, Gaming Centers or Arcades. Any one of which a city might say your location will need to be classified as to operate an escape game. Wherever you’re looking to open your escape game, take the time to familiarize yourself with the zones that the other escape games in your city have. If they’re all zoned the same, look to open your escape game in a building with the same zone classification. If you have a location picked out you love but it isn’t zoned how you need it, you’ll need to get it rezoned. This isn’t a process I generally recommend due to its unpredictability. The time needed to rezone a building can vary wildly, your rezone can go in front of the city council and be rejected seemingly arbitrarily and you can even face resistance from other businesses and citizens in the area. If you do decide to go down the path of rezoning a building I highly recommend you find a local zoning attorney. Most such attorneys will do a free consultation and you’ll get a good idea of how much time, effort and money it will take to rezone your building. They’ll also be able to advise you on options outside a full rezone; conditional zoning and zoning exceptions are both potential options that most people aren’t aware of that will allow that building to hold an escape game.
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