Jill and Allan Bennett have filled a 22,000-square-foot building with a dark and creepy mix of bloody monsters and pitch-black mazes.
But soon their popular haunted house, Bennett's Curse, will be homeless. The property they lease in Jessup is scheduled for development.
The grassy field where their white building holds giant vampire bats, menacing monsters and creepy grim reapers will eventually become part of a mixed-use development of townhouses, shops and offices.
So even as they opened this weekend for their fall season, the Bennetts are scouting for a new location to set up their fright show for next year.
"We're kind of being pushed out," Jill Bennett said. "We just want a permanent home."
Finding such a home is proving to be challenging for the Bennetts, who founded their attraction at Arundel Mills mall in Hanover in 2001. They moved to Blob's Park in Jessup five years ago.
The family that owned the Blob's Park restaurant and polka hall eventually got out of the business and sold the land for development. Part of the property was sold to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore for an eventual new home for nearby St. Lawrence Martyr Parish, and most of the property is being developed as a mixed-use project called Parkside that is under construction.
The Bennetts want to stay in the county, and the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. has been helping them look for possible sites.
The Bennetts also are looking beyond the county's borders. The Bennetts say their business is unusual and doesn't always fit within zoning rules or landlords' ideas of a desirable tenant. Allan Bennett said some landlords do not want a tenant that is open only for a few months of the year; others worry that haunted houses are unsafe or poorly run.
Wes MacQuilliam of the county development corporation has been working with the Bennetts, tapping sources in the real estate industry in hopes of finding a commercial or industrial property for the haunted house.
"It's kind of a difficult requirement because they need a large facility and it's a unique use," MacQuilliam said.
To meet local zoning rules and the needs of the business, the property must be at least an acre, have commercial or industrial zoning, have plenty of parking and be located on a road that can handle the traffic, MacQuilliam said.
The Bennetts are hoping for a building that has at least 30,000 square feet.
"Finding a large building like that, by itself has been challenging," MacQuilliam said. "Hopefully, we'll find them something. They've got to move, and we definitely want to keep them in the county. They're a great business."
If they have to move outside the county, the Bennetts believe their customers will follow because they have established themselves as a regional draw. Customers come from as far away as Northern Virginia and Pennsylvania, they said.
Even with their business future uncertain, the Bennetts are embarking on another season of scaring the pants off customers.
Spoiler alert: Those paying $30 can expect to spend about 40 minutes winding through a series of corridors and rooms that begin with a medieval underworld, progress to a three-dimensional interpretation of Dante's "Inferno," enter an asylum and end in a dark outdoor cage maze. Along the way, guests are frightened by dozens of costumed actors, walls that suddenly close in and floors that tilt.
On opening night Friday, a crew from the Travel Channel was expected to be among those exploring the haunted house, filming for a coming episode of "America's Scariest Halloween Attractions," which has featured Bennett's Curse before.
The Bennetts are expecting tens of thousands of customers this year and hope it won't be their final haunt.
"We have a long road ahead of us," Jill Bennett said.
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