Monessen evicts Castle Blood, Mon Net Cafe
The City of Monessen is evicting two businesses from its rental properties, including Castle Blood — a popular year-round haunted attraction.
Monessen Mayor Lou Mavrakis said he and council authorized the eviction of Castle Blood, operated by Ricky Dick, because of an unauthorized lease issued by the previous administration.
In addition, the city sent an eviction notice to Ernie Telegraphis of the Mon Net Café, reportedly because of $2,660 in unpaid rent from November through February.
Castle Blood occupies the second floor at the Eastgate 11 building while Mon Net Café is on the left side of the first floor.
The Castle Blood lease, issued by former city administrator John Harhai and Mayor Mary Jo Smith in November 2012, required Dick to pay $100 a year for five years. The city has been paying utility bills for the site, according to Mavrakis and city Solicitor Al Gaudio.
“The people of Monessen need to know this was going on,” Mavrakis said Monday. “I'd be willing to sell my home, move in there with my wife and stay there, and let the city pay my utilities.”
Telegraphis' lease lists rent at $665 per month, while Ron Mozer of Crystalline Technologies LLC, which occupies a first-floor space, pays $988 per month, according to city records.
Gaudio said the basis for the Castle Blood eviction was twofold.
“Number one, it was never approved by council. ... Anytime you transfer real estate from a city, it's a legislative act and it needs to be approved,” Gaudio said.
“The second thing is, in my opinion, you can't just give city-owned property away. When you lease something of that value for $100 a year and the city pays utility costs, that's the equivalent of a giveaway.”
Gaudio said that if the Castle Blood decision lands the city in court, he is authorized to defend the action.
“You always have to do what is in the best interest of the city, and $100 a year is unreasonable for almost all real estate,” Gaudio said. “In essence, it puts the city in a hole.”
Mavrakis said it was not his intention to put Dick “out on the street” and that he's willing to work on relocating the attraction.
Reached by phone Monday, Dick indicated he is willing to work with Mavrakis and the city to relocate.
“An eviction notice seems harsh, but we were never going to be there forever. The city owns it. It's a rental,” Dick said. “We were very lucky and grateful that the former administration took us in and helped us out. From the talks I've had with (Gaudio), it seems like the new administration has nothing against me, they just want their building back.”
Castle Blood was recently featured on NBC News in a feature on haunted house attractions for Valentine's Day. More than 60 volunteer performers help conduct tours of the attraction.
“I got a crazy, ridiculous deal, because I was to bring thousands of people into Monessen, which we did,” Dick said. “While I'm not originally from Monessen, I certainly feel like I have roots there.”
According to Gaudio, Castle Blood has 30 days to vacate.
But Dick, who just staged a Valentine's Day event Saturday to benefit the Monessen No. 1 Fire Department, said he hopes the city allows him some flexibility. Dick said he recently purchased a home in Monessen.
“I'm already involved in the community, so this is a little ironic. But they need their building back,” Dick said. “If I can work with the new administration to stay (in the city), I'm going to stay. My first choice is to stay in Monessen, but I'm positive we'll stay in the Mon Valley.”
As for Telegraphis, who opened Mon Net Café in fall 2012, Gaudio said: “He's been defiant. He doesn't want to pay, and council has given me the authorization to evict him.”
Telegraphis sent a letter to Mavrakis and council dated Feb. 12 stating business had been slowed by the winter weather and that he intended to catch up with rent “within the next four to five months.”
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2635.