Enter Hells Gate
By Noah Wullkotte
Today I interview Nick Francis, creator and co-owner of Hells Gate in Toledo, OH. What started out as a mere home haunted is set to become a full fledge professional haunted attraction this Halloween Season.
Tell us a litle about the history of Hells Gate and how you got involved in the haunt industry.
We started building haunted houses when I was in the first grade. We started to have Halloween parties in the first grade and I just decorated a hallway of our house for the first 2 years. Then I had it in the basement for 2 years. We all know what a 1st grader’s haunted house looks like so I wouldn’t count those four years but they got me started.
Then in the fifth grade I started to get really serious and I started to use the garage and our enclosed porch. I changed the theme every year and it was probably like 400 square feet with some black plastic walls and actors. In the 8th grade I decided to kick it up a notch and really see what I could do. That really started the growth of the haunted house and it began to expand over our entire property.
In 2008 we covered every square inch of our property and had 500 attendees on Halloween night. We ran into many problems with neighbor complaints, zoning problems, building permits, and even having the fire marshals showing up days before we opened. However we worked through all of them and it ended up being a huge success.
What people in the haunt industry were influential in Hells Gate becoming a professional haunt?
All of the people that said we wouldn’t make it. We got to prove all of the people that are big in the industry that kids our age can put on an event that rivals there’s.
Inside the haunt industry we have met many contacts that have helped us and we thank them all.
What are your plans for this year’s Hells Gate?
For 2009 we are opening up a Professional Haunted Attraction in Northwest Ohio. We are currently looking for a building and sponsors for the event. We are partnering up with The Make-A-Wish Foundation and Ronald McDonald House. The event is going to be attracting 10,000 to 30,000 guests. We are going to advertise and work very hard to make sure all goes according to plan. We really want to have fun and help out others at the same time.
What has been most difficult about transitioning from a home haunt to a professional haunt?
This year’s haunt is going to be the biggest haunt we have built yet. We want everything in the haunt to be foolproof. We have had to do so much more planning and research for the haunt to make sure everything will run smoothly. We want people to leave Hells Gate craving more. The work for this haunted house is basically triple from previous years. We are continuing to work hard every day on it.
Describe the type of haunt Hells Gate is going to be this Halloween season?
The haunted attraction is going to be around 7,000 square feet. The theme is going to be a post apocalyptic city and in addition to the Haunted House it will include a fully interactive and elaborately themed Queue line, a fully themed concession area, music with a D. J., and more. We are trying to make this haunt as entertaining as possible; way beyond just the house.
How do you plan to market Hells Gate Haunt in order for it to be able to compete with haunts that have been around for a while in the Toledo area?
We are trying to make Hells Gate unlike any other haunt. This year we are going to be working extremely hard on getting our name out there. Being that this year is our first year as professional, we really need to get noticed if we want to succeed in the near future. Many flyers, posters, and cards will be made to give out and hopefully circulate around. We have even contacted this area’s radio stations for some exclusive advertisements. We also have the local paper doing an article on our haunt. If all goes well marketing should be strong for us this year. We are also cross promoting with other haunts in the area and our charity and business partnerships are going to help us advertise as well.
Give us a little insight on the other people who are instrumental in creating Hells Gate.
Our friends and family made this entire event possible. Our biggest influences have been the companies and individuals that have taken us seriously. We have great group of volunteers that love to help just for the fun of it. Without our crew, Hells gate would not be possible.
Where do you see Hells Gate 10 years from now?
We have an excellent staff aboard Hells Gate. Owner Nick Francis, Co-owner Max Simon, Public Relations Cody Rutkowski, and the rest of our great building and planning crew help keep this haunt in such great order. With Cody and me ending our high school careers, we will be going on to further college education. The management will then be left for Max to take over. We will defiantly be all back together after schooling. Hopefully with more knowledge, we can come back with even more creative ideas.
As of 2009 how many years has Hells Gate been a home haunt and how has it changed over the years?
We have been building home haunts for 10 years. We never could have imagined we would get to this level. We started out so small and just running around in costumes for family and friends, to building a 2,000 square foot haunt in your back yard, to putting on an entire commercial haunted attraction that is going to be well over 7,000 square feet for the haunt alone to share with the whole Toledo and surrounding area. We cannot wait to see what Hells Gate will be like in the next 10 years. We are so excited to see what we can accomplish.
Are there any funny stories you can tell us about Hells Gate?
There has not been a single day working on Hells Gate where something totally hilarious has not happened. From people falling to other incidents everybody is kept laughing. The most memorable moment is when, the opening day of the haunted house there were extreme amounts of fog from our machines in the haunt, being blown onto a local road by the strong winds. All of sudden fire trucks came flying by to check out what was going on. It was one of the most random things we have ever seen. We told them what was going on and it was all cleared up. The jokes and actions of our crew is what keeps all of us so lively and content with working.
For more information on Hells Gate, please visit www.hellsgatehaunt.com.