Once again, Windom fights over its motels

Neighbors say they're crime magnets, but police and motel owners disagree

In the Windom neighborhood, tensions are brewing again over two motels that neighbors contend bring crime into the area. Owners of the Aqua City Motel, 5739 Lyndale Ave. S., and the Metro Inn Motel, 5637 Lyndale Ave. S., said they feel unfairly targeted and are doing all they can to keep problems out of the neighborhood.

An August meeting facilitated by Councilmember Scott Benson (11th Ward) drew almost 100 people. Benson encouraged communication between residents, motel owners, police and city officials, but the forum was dominated by comments from angry residents.

"A lot of burglaries are happening because of the motels," said Judith Friedman, a motel neighbor. "And you can sometimes see the prostitution on the street -- people are very upset."

Friedman said neighborhood problems are visible daily at all hours. "No one seems to take this very seriously," she said.

Friedman said she wants the city to buy the motels, rezone them and build something else in their place.

Vangie Parker lives behind the Metro Inn. She said she sees prostitution and drug dealing regularly from her windows.

Parker said she's called the police and the city's licensing department, but nothing helps. "It's a nightmare," she said.

Police calls down

Community Crime Prevention/SAFE Police Officer Jabra Kawas said not all neighborhood crimies can be tied to the motels. "Calls specifically for the motels have decreased," he said. "We're not seeing any statistically significant patterns." (See sidebar above.)

Aqua City owner Mohammed Bashir said he has worked hard to clean up his business since purchasing it four years ago. He said police reports are down and he doesn't think the motel should be blamed for problems in the neighborhood.

"Anytime there is an issue in the neighborhood, we are an easy target," he said. "I cannot control who walks in the neighborhood."

Bashir said he lives on the property with his family, which includes small children; like other residents, he doesn't want crime problems. "I live here and I'm a part of the neighborhood, too," he said.

Bashir said he has taken many safety measures, including hiring a security company on call 24 hours a day, installing security cameras, checking guest ID and flagging problem customers in his guest database so they can't rent there again.

Metro Inn owner Navnitlal Bhakta said he has always cooperated with neighbors and is using a similar flagging mechanism.

Bhakta, who lives in California, said his manager lives on the property with his family and also doesn't want problems. "We do not tolerate any nuisance," he said.

Laws unenforced

However Bashir and Bhakta said they allow guests to rent at their motels for longer than a week, the maximum allowed under a state statute and city ordinance.

Clara Schmit-Gonzales, city of Minneapolis deputy director of business licensing and regulatory services, said the extended-stay law is not enforced because it is outdated; other state agencies, such as the state Department of Health, don't enforce it either, she said, unless it's an extreme case lasting years.

License inspector Leanne Selander said she hasn't received any complaints about the motels until recent weeks. She said she's had very positive experiences with Aqua City's Bashir and he has always complied with licensing suggestions and orders.

Selander said the Metro Inn hasn't been as responsive, but Bhakta is working with her to improve the property.

Benson said that as a result of the meeting, police and licensing officials, neighbors and motel owners committed to improve the situation.

Benson said the police inspector agreed to put more patrols in the area; Selander promised to monitor the motels more carefully; and neighbors committed to block clubs and foot patrols.

Bashir gave neighbors his home phone number and urged them to call at all hours with any problems. Benson said Bhakta will install further security measures, including a camera, and work with neighbors on some aesthetic changes.