Planning commissioners OK escape room permit

Carson City Planning Commissioners Sena Loyd and Teri Preston hear a request for an escape room business at Wednesday’s meeting.

Carson City Planning Commissioners Sena Loyd and Teri Preston hear a request for an escape room business at Wednesday’s meeting.
Photo by Scott Neuffer.

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The Carson City Planning Commission on Wednesday unanimously approved a special use permit for an escape room business in downtown Carson City but not without discussion about what constitutes an escape room.

“I’m just going to ask of Ms. Smith (applicant) — just for our benefit and that of the audience — to give us a description of what that experience would be like, what you’re actually offering,” said Commissioner Ellen Dechristopher.

Business co-owner Jennifer Smith, with Escape 36 LLC, said people will book online or call to reserve a spot. Parties are expected to be between two and 10 people.

“They will walk through a scenario, and then they will be placed in the room. In the room, they’ll go through puzzles that are designed in a linear fashion to get them to the end of the game, whatever that end may be, to get out of whatever scenario they’re in,” Smith said. “There will always be one person, one employee there, to supervise each of the rooms that the people are doing.”

The permit approved Wednesday is for use of up to three rooms in the Carson City Square building at 716 N. Carson St., which houses Visit Carson City and other tenants. According to the permit application, one of the rooms could accommodate up to 10 players and one up to six. Another 10-person room is planned.

“Escape 36 will open with 2 escape rooms and plans to add a third room six months to one year after opening,” reads an Oct. 24 memo from Smith.

Because city code doesn’t specify escape rooms, planning staff looked at similar uses in the downtown mixed-use zoning district, finding the proposed use similar to amusement arcades, which require an SUP.

“With regards to your question on being classified as an amusement,” Commissioner Richard Perry told the business owners, “it’s just, it’s a use, right, because escape rooms are not in Title 18, the zoning code. And believe me, you want to take this route rather than wait for us to write something about what an escape room is because it might take three years.”

Perry also wondered if escape rooms are syndicated.

“We actually are creating our own,” said business co-owner Tracey Hudson. “You can buy them already designed, but that’s not what Jennifer and I are doing, so these are custom escape rooms from our brains.”

Commissioners also discussed some of the five conditions of approval for the permit. Commissioner Charles Borders asked if the tenant or property owner is responsible for fire code compliance.

“Because this is a new use to that building… it’s a different kind of use, and so from a building and fire code perspective, they look at it differently, and they have different requirements for like fire alarms and exiting and things like that,” said Associate Planner Heather Manzo. “That’s what that condition 5 requires. Anytime you have a change of use like that, it requires a change of use building permit, so a tenant improvement. It’s a normal process that the planning commission doesn’t typically see.”

Manzo added the conditions ensure the project meets code and receives proper inspections before opening.

Smith told commissioners the target demographic for the business is 12 and older.

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