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Proposed New Escape Room Seeks Zoning Amendment

By Jenny Callison, posted May 18, 2023
A property near New Hanover Regional Medical Center could soon lure escapists if city officials approve a zoning change.
 
Escape Experiences LLC is asking the Wilmington Planning Board to approve a change for a parcel at 1880 S. 17th St. from its existing Office & Institutional (O&I) to Community Business (CB). The proposed change to a more general business classification would allow the establishment of an escape room business in the current structure, which has sat vacant for more than a year since it was purchased by Glenn Esterson. It formerly housed a company that made braces and prosthetics.
 
“We believe this business would be an excellent fit for this part of the city in particular,” Escape Experiences owner Christopher Berlin stated in his zoning amendment application. “An escape room business does not have any additional environmental impact to the neighboring wetlands and stormwater management, does not require any food or liquor licenses or inspections.”
 
Berlin also stated that the venue’s operating hours would largely be different from those of nearby businesses, minimizing any traffic impact.
 
While he stated in the application that “more than half” of the business’s operations would take place in the evening, Berlin sees an opportunity to market the escape room to neighboring medical offices and other businesses during the day.
 
“An escape room can be a good team-building exercise, and some companies use it as a way for management to identify leadership potential and response to challenges within their teams,” he said Thursday morning.
 
Wilmington currently is home to at least three escape room venues. Two are in the central business district and one is on Wrightsville Avenue. Berlin believes there is adequate demand for another escape room in a different part of town, and addressed that in his application.
 
“Wilmington is a strong tourist town,” he wrote. “The existing escape room businesses currently book out well above industry standard rates due to a very strong demand for entertainment both by locals as well as the consistent flow of tourists who look for something to do.”
 
As required, Berlin advertised and held a neighborhood meeting in late March to address any concerns from property owners in the area, but no one attended.
 
The request has gone before Wilmington’s Technical Review Committee, which is asking property owner Esterson to make a few minor improvements to the .61-acre site but didn’t raise objections to the proposed use, Berlin said, adding that his application will be considered by the planning board at its June 7 meeting.
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