Staff Photo by Shane McMillan
Officer Carrico from the East Ridge Police Department says he frequently patrols the Superior Creek Lodge in East Ridge when he is on patrol. Officials in East Ridge say police receive about 12 times as many calls to extended stay motels as they do to other hotels and motels.
It’s quiet around the Superior Creek Lodge motel by day. The housekeepers mop the hallways with Pine Sol. The maintenance crew picks up litter.
In the late afternoons, the motel comes alive with children, who fill the courtyard with games of touch football or cluster together on the grass to share crayons and color.
But as nightfall approaches, the atmosphere changes. Cars come and go. Fights break out. Police are called.
Between April 2006 and April 2008, the East Ridge Police Department responded 920 times to calls from the motel, and the city’s fire department responded 218 times, city records show. During the same period, 84 people were arrested at the motel for charges ranging from a revoked driver’s license to felony assault and narcotics.
With some police officers responding to two calls a shift from Superior Creek, the motel is taking away from their ability to patrol other neighborhoods, said Officer Erik Hopkins, the department’s spokesman.
“We have a vested interest in keeping businesses active and healthy, but there’s a point at which a business taxes city services to an excess,” Mr. Hopkins said. “Superior Creek Lodge comes across our screen so often that it’s a larger issue that needs to be addressed.”
Superior Creek owner David Gysin denies crime is a problem.
“Why do you think that 700 people live here?” he said. “If it was that bad of a place, do you think that many people would stay here? Think about it.”
Many residents were rattled by a ground floor shooting last February in which the gunman shot through a sliding glass door. No one was injured, but police arrested the resident for manufacturing marijuana in his room. Neighbor Jaysen Welchance said his daughters refused to sleep in the family’s room with the sliding door for months.
Parents have been more cautious since September, when a man was charged with kidnapping and sexual battery for reportedly pulling a 15-year-old girl into his room and touching her inappropriately.
Mr. Gysin argues that every extended-stay motel has the same set of problems. He said his property is unduly targeted due to its size.
“I’d bet you that 5 percent (arrests per population) is probably pretty norm at any extendedstay motel,” Mr. Gysin said. “We get hit by the law of large numbers because there are a lot of people who are living here. And that’s not fair to do to us.”
Superior Creek is not alone in its struggle to control crime. At the Hamilton Inn on Rossville Boulevard in Chattanooga, there have been 213 incidents of crime between 2004 and October 2008, police records show, including assaults, drug possession, burglary and rape.
General Manager Jim Richards said trespassers from the surrounding neighborhood are partly to blame for the motel’s crime rates.
“Our biggest problem was the prostitutes in that area coming onto the property, the street people coming onto the property and the drug dealers coming onto the property,” he said. “They just overwhelmed us.”
After a burglar was stabbed in the leg last summer while trying to break into a room, the motel requested, and received, greater police presence to cut down on the trespassing. Since then, Mr. Richards said, the number of people being removed from the property each night has dropped from about 30 to only a handful. The shift in the overall atmosphere, Mr. Richards said, prompted residents to come forward and share what they know about crime.
Co-owner Larry Watts said most people living there are not criminals.
“I would say 90 percent of our people are upstanding, pay their (rent) people. They may not be high-income people, but they’re good people,” he said. “Ten percent of our people probably cause problems for our other people.”
And as Chattanooga police spokeswoman Jerri Weary pointed out, crime occurs everywhere.
“I wouldn’t say that hotels or motels are hot spots,” she said. “Have we had some people in transit commit some crimes in motels? Obviously so because they were reported, but don’t think that just because we have a significant number — or what appears to be a significant number (that it’s) a criminal trend.”
East Ridge business owners Debbie Lehigh and Rita Lamb, however, say the activity around Superior Creek Lodge is a drain on the neighborhood. Inside their “Garden Galleries” antique store on Mack Smith Road, furniture and collectibles are displayed in individual stalls like eclectic dioramas from the past.
“We are trying to grow this as a deliberate shopping destination for antiques and home decor,” Ms. Lehigh said. “With what’s going on back there (at Superior Creek), it’s really making our job hard.”
They persuaded their landlord to put up a fence, but said it hasn’t helped that much.
“We think by far the good outweighs the bad, but it’s just that we don’t want this to continue to be a problem and to get worse as the economy worsens,” Ms. Lehigh said.
East Ridge Police Chief Eddie Phillips said he has heard the same set of complaints from other business owners in the area and has met with Mr. Gysin to discuss the motel’s impact on the neighborhood. Mr. Gysin has been cooperative, Mr. Phillips said, but doesn’t seem to understand the “big picture.”
“In other cities, places have been declared a public nuisance and shut down. We may be headed in that direction if the owners can’t get a handle on it,” he said.
For his part, Mr. Gysin said the motel offers a quality of life most don’t give it credit for.
“The great majority of people who stay here enjoy staying here,” he said. “It’s a peaceful place, it’s quiet. They can enjoy a nice pool in the summertime, they have an inexpensive place to live in probably the nicest room they can get in town. Is it perfect? No. Are people perfect? No.”