RIVERVIEW — Imagine driving past marauding zombies hobbling toward your golf cart, flesh falling from their limbs. Military personnel would guide guests as they wind through a nightmarish maze, fending off the undead with paint-ball guns.
It’s a video game come to life, one that five Riverview business partners hope to turn into reality in coming years. Their vision is to build a Halloween-themed emporium along the Interstate 4 corridor.
For now, it’s all just an expensive vision. But with enough name recognition and good ghoulish guest experiences, the investors say they can make it happen.
They plan to start off small, hosting their first event on Valentine’s Day evening — Mephisto’s Masquerade & Casino Night at the Event Factory in Tampa.
The evening will be filled with dancing, music, mystery and magic performed by their central character, a magician named Dr. Mephisto, whose real name is Ken Dockum.
With the theme “Turning Nightmares into Reality,” the partners say, they can draw a crowd of 18- to 34-year-olds and make them want more.
“We want to bring Halloween to everyone 365 days a year,” said Tim Grabowski who is tweaking the vision with his wife, Dawn, and friends Shamaine Stokes and Aaron and Ivan Gonzales.
Along with the zombie paint-ball emporium, they envision a black-light miniature golf course and, for their centerpiece, a 1920’s-era cinema palace where Dr. Mephisto will perform dark magic.
The investors were seeking a common interest to manifest their dream of owning a business when they realized their common thread was a love of horror, ghouls and the paranormal, Dawn Grabowski said. They got to work with drawings, building their dream through their imaginations.
Aaron and Ivan Gonzales have, for years, studied the best ways to present horror on Halloween and have had success, on a small scale, entertaining friends and neighbors, Aaron Gonzales said. Now they’re ready to take it up a notch.
Dawn Grabowski said others have talked about creating a spooky-themed entertainment complex in Florida, but for now there is a void.
“There isn’t really an outlet for people that enjoy this sort of thing,” Tim Grabowski said.
The partners got a big dose of reality when they spoke with accountants about the plan and realized it would cost millions of dollars. “The accountant told us to start out small, so that is what we are doing,” Dawn Grabowski said.
“We want to see how this first one goes down, and what kind of a response we get,” Dawn Grabowski said. If all goes well, the partners hope to put on a different event each month or so and are planning a haunted house during the Halloween season.
Tickets for the first event are $40 and $80, depending on whether guests want entry and dinner only, or entry, dinner and casino night access. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Melanoma Research Foundation.