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Some East Side Residents Say Neglected Motel Hinders Area Progress

As neighborhoods deteriorate, a common sign of decline is an old motel. Once they were symbols of progress, a welcome sign for visitors, but as years pass they become rundown and attract a different, less welcome kind of visitor. WOSU has the story of an East Side neighborhood’s effort to clean up a dilapidated motel. The motel at 3190 East Main Street is located on historic Route 40. In the mid-50’s it was described as “ultra-modernâ€? with private bathrooms and air conditioning. Then it was known as the 40 Winks Motel. Today, plywood covers many of the windows. The office door is cracked and broken. Cinder blocks hold down roofing. Motel One, as it’s called now, is notorious for its cheap rates and unsavory clientele. Neighbors and nearby business owners call it a “roach motelâ€? and an “eye sore.â€? Alex McCrary owns Profilers Designer Cuts, a barber shop across the street from Motel One. “A lot of drug activity, a lot of prostitution. People are in and out, you know, people just standing around look like they’re up to nothing," McCrary said. Victoria Harvey lives two blocks away. She’s lived in the neighborhood eight years. “It brings it down. They need to clean it up or shut it down," Harvey said. The State Fire Marshal’s Office said Motel One could lose its license. The fire marshal regulates Ohio’s motels and hotels. Spokesman Shane Cartmill said Motel One was inspected in November. It did not go well. “Mold; shock and electrical hazards; unsanitary linens, box springs, mattresses; carpets that were not cleaned; smoke alarms that were missing.â€? Cartmill said smoke alarms were installed right away. But 30 days later when the fire marshal went back to the motel, “Many of things had not been fixed especially the cleanliness and the sanitary conditions.â€? Cartmill said Motel One’s problems are among the worst he’s seen but similar hotels are a problem in many neighborhoods. The State Fire Marshal’s Office investigated about 60 motel complaints last year. On West Broad Street near I-70, Columbus Police were called to Knights Inn nearly 30 times since June for various reasons: drugs or assaults. Rebecca Hunley heads up the safety task force for the Franklinton Area Commission. Hunley called the Knights Inn the “underbellyâ€? of her neighborhood’s drug and prostitution problem. And she says it paints an inaccurate picture of the area. “When people are hearing about my historic neighborhood...it’s these kinds of issues that seem to color the perception of our neighborhood," Hunley said. Franklin County environmental court Judge Harlan Hale has closed some motels over the years for nuisance and neglect. Hale said these kinds of properties deter future development. “Nobody wants to live next to the rundown, dilapidated place where there is drug activity, all kinds of other illegal conduct routinely and so forth, and there is no easy answer for it," Hale said. Back on East Main Street, Scott Huggins has been fighting to have Motel One shut down for years. Huggins thought he’d won the battle in 2005 when Judge Hale ordered it closed. But the law allowed for only a one-year closure. Now Huggins, who is part of the Eastmoor Civic Association, is trying again. “I just want to see the area better. If that means that motel is torn down, then yeah, I’d be happy with that," Huggins said. Helene Steed owns Motel One. Steed bought it from Fu Ih Chu on December 27 – not long after that bad follow-up inspection – for $150,000. When asked why a young woman would want to buy dilapidated motel, Steed answered, "We feel up to the task of bringing the place up to code. I don’t know. Just trying to run a business basically.â€? Despite the transfer, some worry the new ownership is a change in name only. Steed and her husband live nearby. They rent a house from Chu who ran the motel for more than 20 years. Chu owns other troubled properties around the city including several apartment buildings within blocks of Motel One. A motel he owns in Grove City was recently ordered closed for similar reasons. Steed denied a close relationship with Chu. She said Chu did not lend her the money to buy the motel. But according to Steed, Chu will still be around the property. “He’s going to help us with some of like the things he’s familiar with. Like he’s offered to help us a little bit, but he’s not going to be the main person doing things," Steed said. Huggins is skeptical the new owners will be able to turn the motel around. “If Mrs. Steed has the money to re-invest into the place, wants to fix it up, that’d be a great option for it. But that’d be a wait and see, and I think they’ve run out of options," Huggins said. Story amendment: After this story aired, WOSU learned the new owner of the troubled East Side motel is related to its former owner. Helene Steed's maiden name is Chu. When confronted with this information, Steed admitted she is related to Chu, but she refused to say how. Steed insists she plans to fix up the motel.