Tyler Renner’s great-grandfather, Theodore Bauer, built the imposing Grant Building on East Main Street in downtown Belleville and now Renner will bring new life into the building as Escape 618.
Renner bills his venture as Belleville’s first escape room.
Customers, including kids and their families, corporate groups, class field trips or couples on a date, pay to enter a themed room and then use team building skills to figure their way out within a time limit. Renner notes that customers are not “locked” in the room, they can leave at any time if they want and a “game master” will accompany and monitor the players.
Several escape room businesses are already in operation in the St. Louis metro area.
“It’s going to be just for fun,” Renner said. “It’s going to take you out of your element and you’re going to forget stress, you’re going to forget your worries and you’re going to be able work on problem solving.”
He hopes to have nine themed rooms in the building at 102 E. Main St. The initial phase will feature four escape rooms on the first floor and is expected to be ready in January. Five other escape rooms will be opened later in the basement and apartments could be built on a top floor after the escape rooms are finished. Also, the themes would be changed on a regular basis.
“With an escape room, you can benefit the community,” Renner said. “You can bring people together. I can take kids, throw them in a room, get them off their phones and I can make them work together.”
Renner, 29, believes the escape room will be popular for corporate groups.
The group will be given a deadline to see if they can escape. Then the fun starts.
I can take kids, throw them in a room, get them off their phones and I can make them work together.
Tyler Renner of Escape 618
“I can see who is a good leader and I can see who is really going to be passive or who’s the hidden gem, who’s the person who’s quiet who’s actually ... checking the locks to make sure somebody did it right,” Renner said.
A jungle room, a school room and an evil villain heist are three of the first themes planned. The cost will be $25 to $30 per person.
Renner describes the escape room as a “playground” and he hopes to attract customers from throughout the metro area and from out of town. He expects to have a window display ready for the 34th annual Belleville Chili Cook-off on Oct. 6-7.
This is Renner’s first escape room business. He previously ran Renner Technologies in Fairview Heights, where he built and repaired computers.
The brick building at the intersection of East Main and High streets was constructed by the now closed Bauer Brothers Construction of Belleville, which also built iconic structures throughout the region, including St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in downtown Belleville.
Before Escape 618 can open, the building needs a complete overhaul. Renner said he’ll install a new heating and air conditioning system and fire suppression sprinklers.
Renner’s father, Dr. Joseph Renner, a dentist in Swansea, bought the building, which once housed a W.T. Grant variety store. It was built in 1929.
A Jimmy John’s restaurant at 100 E. Main St. is in the building and will remain as a tenant.
To help get Escape 618 started, the Belleville City Council on Monday voted to give $10,000 in TIF money to Tyler Renner. In the TIF application, the Renners stated the building cost $350,000 to buy and that the renovation will cost $350,000.
The development agreement calls for Renner to spend at least $700,000 on the project by March 31, create six full-time equivalent jobs in the first year of operation and remain in business for at least five years. A penalty clause requires Renner to pay back the $10,000 if he doesn’t fulfill the requirements of the agreement.