In the early 1970s, East Ridge had one of the highest concentration of motel rooms around an interstate exchange in the entire United States.
These motels flew the flags of respectable hoteliers; Holiday Inn, Ramada Inn, Howard Johnson’s, Best Western, Days Inn. Exit 1 was hot and business was booming.
One thing that wasn’t booming was “happy hour.” People traveling through wanted a cocktail after a long day on the road. They didn’t get one. When they didn’t get it those people moved down the road to a motel that would slake their thirsts.
East Ridge blew it over a refusal to move into the 20th Century by not passing an ordinance permitting liquor by the drink.
Cut to the chase … the respectable motels began lowering their corporate flags and selling to other business entities with new business plans … extended stay. The Ramada became the America’s Best. The Days Inn became Superior Creek Lodge. Superior Creek became Budgetel.
When Superior Creek began its decline, city officials attempted to shut them down. Building officials went through the place with a check list of expensive repairs. When the owner spent more than $250,000 addressing every point, including security guards, fencing and gates, city officials performed a slow pivot.
In the fall of 2015, city officials condemned Superior Creek for being a threat to public safety. They said the building was in such sad shape that it could fall down under its own weight.
During an evening thunderstorm, the city kicked out more than 700 residents. That was the end of that, right?
In the aftermath, our city council deliberated and debated an ordinance addressing extended stay motels. After months and months of discussions and wringing of hands, the ordinance was adopted and the law was laid down. Oh, and what a law it was.
After getting pressure from the hotel “suits,” the maximum stay of guest was set at 210 days. Correct me if I’m wrong but that’s more than six months, right? An element of the ordinance was that our intrepid city staff would strictly monitor the length of a guest’s stay by checking the records provided by the motel. The City Attorney at the time, Hal North, explained to the council that it wouldn’t work. He said it was unrealistic to expect a business to self-regulate. And, he was right.
The Superior Creek property was put on the block. It was bought by JDH Developers out of Atlanta for a reported $1.4 million, and they were going to renovate the falling-down building. A permit was pulled for a $400,000 renovation, a fraction of the estimated cost to make the extensive repairs the city demanded from the former owner.
After fits and starts of construction _ reportedly $3 million was spent – a new motel flag was run up the pole; East Ridge now had a Budgetel. Oh, it was to be a fine 268-room facility. Yes, it would have an extended-stay component but things would be different this time around.
Our city leaders bought that statement and assured the fine residents not to be alarmed. After all, we had an ordinance that fixed the problem now. Nothing to worry about.
… To be continued.