Crestwood Blvd Hotel Has Eight Weeks To Clean Up Its Act, Council Says

Outside of the USA Economy Lodge

USA Economy Lodge

Google Earth

A crime-plagued motel on Crestwood Boulevard will have eight weeks to clean up its act, the Birmingham City Council decided Tuesday.

Police told councilors that the USA Economy Lodge, at 7941 Crestwood Blvd., had been the source of 151 calls over the past six months, with complaints including allegations of loitering, property theft, distribution of narcotics, prostitution and threats of gun violence.

Nilesh Mehta, a managing member of Blue Chips Hotels Asset Group, which owns the USA Economy Lodge and other hotels across the country, said he had been “blindsided” by the property’s crime problem and blamed local management for not informing him until recently. He also told the council that he planned to convert the property into a multifamily affordable housing development by 2022.

In the meantime, he said, the motel would begin implementing greater safety measures, including hiring off-duty police officers for night-shift security, upgrading the property’s cameras, lighting and surveillance, and increasing its neighborhood outreach.

District 2 Councilor Hunter Williams, who chairs the council’s public safety committee, was unimpressed by the proposal, citing the property’s proximity to W.E. Putnam Middle School as a reason to revoke the lodge’s business license immediately.

“It is not fair for this city to allow people to completely disregard their responsibilities as property owners and as owners of a business license that causes detriment not only to the adjacent neighborhood but also where our kids, our small children in middle school, are going to school,” Williams said.

District 8 Councilor Steven Hoyt raised some concerns about long-term tenants of the motel who would have to be evicted if the city revoked the business license, calling the case a civil rights issue.

Though the motel officially disallows extended stays, owners said that rule had not been enforced by previous management. Current guests have been notified that a 30-day limit is now being enforced, owners said.

Hoyt also warned that immediately closing the hotel would be inconsistent with previous council decisions allowing nightclubs with high crime rates to remain open for a probationary period.

When District 6 Councilor Crystal Smitherman asked, hypothetically, whether plans to redevelop the motel into affordable housing would go forward if the motel’s business license were revoked, Mehta became agitated.

“While I do want to be a part of Birmingham, if you revoke our license, why would I come back here? It makes no sense to me,” he said. “This has gone all around the whole city. Everyone’s scared right now, that you can just take aware their license for things … We’re offering you a partnership, and you’re just slapping us away. Why would you do this?”

Before the vote, District 5 Councilor Darrell O’Quinn advised his fellow councilors not to consider the proposed redevelopment too strongly.

“If I’ve learned one thing as a city councilor, it’s that real estate development is a highly speculative process, and I think we’ve all seen people propose property redevelopments that have never materialized,” he said.

A vote to immediately revoke the business license narrowly failed, with the vote split 4-4. Williams, O’Quinn, District 3 Councilor Valerie Abbott and District 4 Councilor William Parker voted in favor; Hoyt, Smitherman, District 1 Councilor Clinton Woods and District 7 Councilor Wardine Alexander voted against. District 9 Councilor John Hilliard, who is seeking re-election in Oct. 5’s runoff, was not present at Tuesday’s meeting.

That motion’s failure was followed by a proposed eight-week delay, during which time motel owners would be required to check in with the council’s public safety committee every two weeks. That passed 7-1, with Williams as the only dissenter.

News from WBHM will never be behind a paywall. Ever. We need your help to keep our coverage free for everyone. Please consider supporting the news you rely on with a donation today. You can support our journalism for as little as $5. Every contribution, no matter the size, propels our vital coverage. Thank you.


Birmingham debuts new tech hub to help solve crime in real time

Birmingham leaders officially opened the city's Real Time Crime Center Tuesday, a project intended to give the Birmingham Police Department new technological tools to help resolve crime more quickly.

More Black families in Birmingham find freedom in homeschooling

The face of homeschooling is changing and diversifying. In just a year, the number of Black families has increased five-fold— and for more reasons than COVID-19. Several families told WBHM they see homeschooling as a way to protect their children from educational racism.

As southern workers quit in record number, restaurants struggle to meet demands

Wages have gone up as restaurants try to hold onto their staff amid a record number of people quitting their jobs in the U.S., especially in the South.

A missing Alabama woman’s body is found in a parked, unoccupied police van

Christina Nance had been missing since Sept. 25, her family says. Video footage from that day shows her entering the van, which was in a police parking lot. Her body was found 12 days later.

Alabama Board of Education cements state’s ban on critical race theory

At the October meeting, the Alabama state board of education cemented its ban on critical race theory into policy. But, attendants of the meeting reacted in disapproval.

Sierra Hull reflects on the meaning of time on her album “25 Trips”

Sierra Hull's list of achievements includes a three-time mandolin player of the year by the International Bluegrass Association. The mandolinist and singer/songwriter takes a reflective look at her life on her latest album.

More Front Page Coverage