New Plaza Motel on 34 Street North near Fifth Avenue will close for at least one year. The St. Pete Nuisance Abatement board voted to force closure for one year after owners failed to demonstrate the ability to curb illegal activity consistently reported on the property.
New Plaza Motel is a low-income efficiency known to rent to residents who can’t afford another place to stay. It’s considered by many a motel of last resort.
During quasi-judicial proceedings against the motel and attached bar, Cactus Charlie’s, in March and April owners claimed they had taken significant steps to abate chronic calls for service to the St. Pete Police Department.
During a hearing police testified they had received 230 calls for service originating from the property, far more than average for any other place in the city. Officers also testified to numerous undercover drug buys by detectives or confidential informants.
Since the two hearings in March and April there have been six more undercover drug buys on the property.
Owners had argued through attorneys that illegal activity had been curbed through additional security measures, including a fence, security cameras and armed security. They also said the activity was occurring at the bar, not the motel.
A separate lawsuit was even filed after the board ordered New Plaza to hire off-duty police to provide security. The lawsuit alleged, again, that illegal activity was at Cactus Charlie’s and not the motel. They also claimed the cost to hire off-duty police was not feasible.
However, since the proceedings owners voluntarily closed Cactus Charlie’s and illegal activity on the property continued. The Nuisance Abatement board found there was no other way to curb the problem other than shutting the motel down for a year.
“I am positive they will appeal this but I think we have enough evidence to show that since 2011 – actually 2009 — they’ve been working on this and cannot get it under control,” said City Council member Amy Foster, who has made nuisance abatement on troubled properties like New Plaza a top priority.
It’s not clear what will happen to the property after the one year term is complete. If the motel is to re-open, there would still have to be abatement measures in place. That includes the off-duty police officers, still more security cameras and an updated database of who can rent a room and who can’t.
According to Foster the motel was using an outdated paper-file system to check the do-not-rent list instead of a digital database that can be easily searched.
With the motel being shut down it’s also unclear whether the property could pose a new problem to the city through code violations. However, as long as it remains under current ownership, the property still has to be maintained.
Foster said there is also talk of issues concerning affordable housing. Places like New Plaza Motel are often used as a last alternative to sleeping on the streets.
“It’s not safe for people to be housed in a drug hole,” Foster said.
She said there are options being discussed, including possibly purchasing one of the properties identified as a chronic nuisance if owners were willing. That would give the city the opportunity to look at ways to provide housing to those Foster referred to as “safe and clean.”
Those conversations are not yet official and even if that became a viable option, it would likely be long down the road.
The city’s Nuisance Abatement board is continuing to address longstanding problems with the neighboring Mosley Motel. Another hearing will take place next week on that matter where Mosley owners face fines or closure. Foster expects those proceedings to take at least two more meetings.
Owners of the Mosley Motel have filed their own lawsuit against the city asking a judge to bar the city from proceeding, arguing the allegations have been “manufactured.“