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.