I’m just not buying it.
The East Ridge City Council met last Thursday to consider on second reading an ordinance that would establish limits as to how long guests are allowed to stay in “extended stay” motels in our city.
For several months, staff, the Council and the Planning Commission have been mulling the issue over, attempting to consider all angles and craft an effective law that will protect the citizens of this community from disreputable businesses who cater to the less fortunate and profit from their circumstances. The intent was to stop motels from in effect being, in the words of Mayor Brent Lambert, “ad hoc apartment complexes.”
So our elected officials and staff held at least half a dozen meetings _ both Planning Commission and City Council _ in which the public was invited. That public included the owners of area hotels/motels. I attended those meetings and guess what … the motel owners didn’t show.
I found out after the fact that this past Monday the mayor and some city staffers met with at least one motel owner in City Hall. I don’t know how many owners showed and I don’t know what was discussed because no notice was given to the public. That’s fine. It’s a private meeting where the owners and city staff, presumably, could speak frankly about the issue.
Three days later during the City Council’s Agenda meeting, representatives from the city’s hotel/motel industry showed up in full force. Only three people spoke: The construction superintendent from the new Budgetel; the manager of the Fairfield Suites; and I guess his boss, a man from corporate.
Oh, dear. The new Budgetel owners from Atlanta couldn’t be bothered to come up from the big city to fly the flag. No, they had their construction guy, who stated up front that he had nothing to do with operations of the business, do their bidding. He spoke about what a bang-up job his crew is doing renovating the three buildings that were condemned by the City last year.
I believe it was most people’s understanding that those buildings were beyond renovation and that they should be razed and just start all over. But, I digress; that’s another story altogether.
Vice Mayor Marc Gravitt asked a question: What is your purpose in being here tonight? Mike Ashley, the construction superintendent, said that he was there simply for “informational purposes.” He then told the council that whatever ordinance it passes, the new owners of Budgetel will comply.
There you go. The new guys, the “elephant in the room,” as Ashley called his presence there, are willing to do whatever the city says on operating the facility that was the impetus for the ordinance being considered in the first place.
Nice and tidy, right?
Not so fast.
Bob Dollinger, the manager of Fairfield Suites, a motel that the city has no quarrel with, stands up and begins wringing his hands. He tells the council that if they place a limit on guest stays it could potentially _ potentially _ jeopardize his business’s franchise agreement and get it in hot water with its lenders. He said the city’s proposed ordinance could have these “unintended consequences.”
Then, it’s Bruce Reed’s turn. He is the Chief Operating Officer of 3 H Group Hotels, the franchisor of Fairfield Suites. Reed said that in his 27-year career with Mariott International he’s yanked the franchise of more than 100 hotels/motels. He said that allowing guests to stay as long as they want or need to is “a key component of the hospitality industry.” Putting a cap on the number of days would frighten off investors who may want to build hotels/motels in East Ridge in the future.
Valid points, perhaps.
Conspicuously absent from the hotel/motel owners in attendance were representatives from Cascades, Waverly, 4A’s and the other “problem” extended stay hotels that proliferated in the city prior to the new economic development. Representatives from the very businesses that this ordinance wishes to address didn’t show.
What does that tell you?
The city has no fight with stand-up businesses like Fairfield, Holiday Inn Express, Comfort Inn et al. They are not the problem. They are good corporate citizens who provide a much-needed service to people visiting our city. They pay hotel/motel taxes and add to the bottom line of East Ridge.
Let’s get real. There is no guarantee that the Budgetel will not turn into a second version of Superior Creek Lodge without some limits on stays and a big, giant hammer to sanction them if they do. That’s what this ordinance is all about. There’s teeth in it. If you rent rooms to people who use it as permanent housing the city is going to yank your certificate of occupancy. The city will shut you down. It did it before.
In my opinion, the potential for legitimate hotel/motel owners to violate the proposed new standards is miniscule. The potential fallout, the “unintended consequences,” if you will, though a concern, must be discounted.
I urge the Mayor and Council to stand firm on its “extended stay” ordinance.
At the conclusion of every resolution and ordinance the city passes is this passage: “Be it further resolved that this ordinance shall take effect from and after its passage, the public welfare of the City requiring it.
If the public welfare of this city doesn’t require getting a handle on disreputable hotel/motels, then I don’t know what issue ever will.