When it was announced last month that the owners of Superior Creek Lodge had sold the buildings and five acres on North Mack Smith Road to a group of businessmen in Atlanta, many people in East Ridge rejoiced.
The reviled extended stay motel that was the object of scorn by many residents _ and the adversary of the city in a Circuit Court lawsuit _ would never open again. The speculation that owner David Gysin would somehow renovate the dilapidated structure _ the city had condemned it and evicted the 750 residents for their own safety in September _ and reopen was over. City officials and the good residents of East Ridge were shed of Superior Creek and all its attendant problems that people living in poverty and desperation often bring.
A quick look at the new owners’ Website showed their association with first-rate hotels like Holiday Inn, Comfort Inn, La Quinta and so on. Days after the sale it appeared that the city would be graced with a brand name motel of which we could take pride.
Shortly thereafter the new owners said they would convert the Superior Creek Lodge property to a Budgetel. A Times Free Press story quoted the owners as saying it would be an extended stay motel.
Wait a second. How can that be?
More than a decade ago, when mainstream motels started pulling out of East Ridge they were bought up by independent owners. Those owners began converting several of the motels to what amounted to apartment buildings for poor folks. When this business model caught on, more and more motels were advertising weekly rates. I know a number of citizens who approached the Mayor and City Council at that time and pleaded with them to get a handle on the situation. They were told there was nothing that could be done to prevent extended stay motels from proliferating.
Suddenly in 2012, after nine extended stay motels were operating in the city, there was a way. The City passed an ordinance banning the operation of additional extended stay motels.
I’m almost positive that during the discussions and deliberation of the extended stay motel issue, the council’s desire was to stop extended stays. If one closed, it was gone. The famed grandfather clause, a term that is thrown around with some regularity in council meetings, would be out the window. “No more extended stay motels” was the clarion call of this particular ordinance.
After the ordinance was passed, then City Manager Tim Gobble told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that the council hoped to weed out existing extended stay hotels through attrition – if one ever closes or ceases operating it cannot be reopened as an extended-stay.
Let me be politically incorrect here. The rationale for the ordinance was to stop certain businesses from spreading in our city. We didn’t want them. They are a blight on the city and don’t project the kind of image that East Ridge _ now undergoing an unprecedented revitalization _ wants to convey to the world.
Consider this; If this ordinance is like some others that have been passed _ fireworks store design standards _ it won’t hold up under the scrutiny of a lawsuit. If this ordinance needs to be amended to close loopholes … do it.
Within the last two weeks, I saw on social media where a woman said she was going to be managing the new Budgetel. She said she was excited that new stoves were coming in and she expected the motel to be opening in May.
I drove by the site last week and saw about half a dozen pickup trucks parked on one side of the building. A man in a Tyvek suit was inside one room. A sign that I couldn’t read from the street was posted on the window of the room in which he was working. Presumably, he was removing some hazardous substance from the unit.
There were no building materials or heavy equipment on site.
I was there when city inspectors walked through the property and pointed out to Gysin all the building’s structural problems. The external walkways to several of the three story buildings were crumbling. The small balconies that some of the other buildings have were in similar disrepair. I witnessed one engineer in one unit taking a sledgehammer to a kitchen floor and pointing out deterioration inside the building.
In short, engineers were telling the building’s owner and city officials that this place was unsafe, confirming the city’s view of condemnation.
Now, if the new owners of the property come in and slap a few coats of paint and a new exterior skin on these buildings, and it’s allowed to reopen as a better, cleaner, more sanitized version of Superior Creek Lodge, something just ain’t right.
Have our elected officials learned nothing from our city’s experience with Superior Creek Lodge? Will it be “back to the future” as Budgetel moves forward with their plans to provide our city with another extended stay motel?