Taking Back Our Neighborhoods: Hotels Revisited - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Joe Birch

Taking Back Our Neighborhoods: Hotels Revisited

Taking Back Our Neighborhoods from so-called hourly motel owners is proving to be easier said than done.

A recent crackdown led to a public auction that amounted to a large fine for motel owners.

But some say it's taxpayers who end up with the tab for the long term consequences of enabling prostitution, drug abuse, and other illicit activities at hourly motels.

The owner of the Royal Inn paid a princely price to buy his own property back on American Way. The public auction came as a result of a crackdown on four motels. They were declared public nuisances for allowing prostitutes and drug dealers to do business blatantly.

"Hopefully, the message will go out to these other motels. You've just got to do something. Do minimal things to keep this from going on and not just turning a blind eye and saying we have no control over it because they do have control over it," Assistant Shelby County District Attorney John Campbell said.

But has the message reached the trio of hourly motels on Lester Street, just one tenth of a mile from where six people were murdered in early March?

When we stopped by, two of the three Lester Street motel clerks quoted their hourly rates!

"I can't imagine anyone picking up the phone and making a reservation there," Bob Mercer of the Metro Memphis Hotel Association said. 

The Metro Memphis Hotel and Lodging Association said none of the Lester Street motels are a member of the group. The lodging association hosts an awards luncheon each year honoring the city's top performing hotel employees. The association president calls the Lester St. motels "deplorable."

"Under no scenario can I think how that benefits the city of Memphis or this community," Mercer said.  

Carol Wiley runs a program that helps prostitutes and strippers exit the X-rated life. She said motels like the three on Lester create a gigantic tab for taxpayers when one considers the big picture cost of the spread of HIV Aids, unwanted pregnancy, and lives lost to drugs.

"We're looking at it as three small motels. It's a germ that can cause an epidemic," Wiley said. 

But so far as a community, this auction is the toughest action any of Memphis' hourly motels have had to face. Four of them have lost the right to do business for 70 plus days and their owners bought most of their own property back after months of investigations by the vice squad and the district attorney.

"Quite frankly, it's a way to recoup the cost of the investigation," Campbell said.

But the ultimate cost to taxpayers of the consequences of activities inside hourly motels is anyone's guess.

Click here to e-mail Joe Birch.

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