After two years of delays, East Ridge Budgetel Inn & Suites now open

Budgetel Inn & Suites is now open at 1410 N. Mack Smith Road in East Ridge. The 266-room hotel makes it the largest in East Ridge, located at exit 1 off Interstate 75. Its predecessor, Superior Creek Lodge, was shut down in 2015 for several safety and building violations and later sued by the city. The new hotel's owners said they have spent $2 million on renovations over the past two years, but residents are still concerned it will attract crime and people who intend to make the hotel their permanent address.

After two years of remodeling and unforeseen expenses at the new Budgetel Inn & Suites in East Ridge, the 266-room hotel - the biggest one in the city - is now open for business.

Superintendent Casey Steinman is overseeing the construction of the former Superior Creek Lodge at 1410 N. Mack Smith Road, which was shut down in 2015 for safety and building violations. He said one building with about 60 rooms are available for booking right now, and the remaining three buildings will be open within the next two weeks if there are no more delays.

Steinman said the owners of the Budgetel Inn, J.D.H. Developers, have spent twice as much as they originally planned because of new requirements and recommendations put forth by the city, county and State Fire Marshal. J.D.H. Developers bought the shuttered motel in February 2016 for $1.4 million, and the company has spent about $2 million refurbishing the four, two-story buildings that sit on five acres off exit 1 and Interstate 75.

"We spent a lot of time and effort rehabilitating this place," Steinman said. "It's a far cry from its predecessor."

Superior Creek Lodge was sued by the city of East Ridge and shut down in 2015, forcing the evacuation of about 750 people. Many of the residents were long term and used the motel as their permanent address. Steinman said they have received several phone calls and Facebook messages from residents concerned about its opening and the crowd that it will attract.

Kenny Custer, director of community services for the city of East Ridge, said Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority (WWTA) required the developers to upgrade the property's sewer lateral lines to up-to-code plastic piping because of stormwater infiltration into sewer pipes from the clay pipes. Custer said they also had to install fire sprinkler systems in each building and install "fire barriers" from electrical and plumbing lines.

Steinman said the buildings were gutted and each room includes new mattresses, box springs, linens, flat-screen TVs and air conditioners. All of the carpet was also torn out and laminate or tile flooring was put down in its place. Steinman said the State Fire Marshal also required they put more landscaping in to make the front entrance and areas around the building more appealing. The hotel also includes a new pool and coin laundry room with vending machines.

A security hut was built at the front of the entrance when construction began, but Steinman said they plan to have a security guard on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week after construction. All cars will be required to have a parking pass and no visitors will be allowed after 9 p.m., he said.

"Our primary focus right now is not to house the residents of East Ridge," Steinman said. "We are really focusing on construction companies and lodging companies that travel for extended periods of time."

In May, the city of East Ridge passed an ordinance stating guests at extended-stay hotels and motels in the city, including Budgetel, can occupy a room for more than 30 consecutive days but in no case can they stay for longer than 120 consecutive days or 210 total days in one year. The ordinance also states no guests will be allowed to move in their own furniture, and hotels/motels violating this ordinance will be placed on a 120-day probationary period for the first offense, lose their occupancy license for 30 days upon a second offense and lose their license for 12 months for a third offense.

Custer said the purpose of the ordinance was to prevent a place intended for transient occupancy from turning into an apartment complex with guests moving in all of their belongings.

"From the city's standpoint, they just don't want it to get where it was," Custer said. "People had lived there (Superior Creek) for 13 years and there was a constant police presence. We are looking for a safe and sanitary environment."

East Ridge resident Michael Clark said he lived at Superior Creek with his stepbrother and their two dogs before it closed and then moved to another extended-stay motel off Lee Highway. Clark and his brother eventually found a house in East Ridge. He said he knew of a lot of "good, hardworking, honest people" at Superior Creek that he still considers friends.

Clark said he's looking into moving back to an extended-stay hotel in Chattanooga because it's easier to maintain bills.

"I think it will be a good, positive thing for some good, hardworking people that may be single or single parents that can't afford deposits and all that," he said about Budgetel.

East Ridge resident Charles Newby, who lives near the hotel, works in the construction industry and said he understands the benefit of extended-stay hotels. But, he said, violence and prostitution occurs at the smaller motels near his home, and he worries that could extend over to a larger degree at the Budgetel.

"No two things are going to be similar, especially when it comes to tenants," he said. "Part of me feels like law enforcement could do more and if they are not working in tandem with places like this then it's just going to be a vicious cycle."

Resident Randy Sewell, who is the brother of East Ridge Vice Mayor Larry Sewell, said Budgetel has done nothing wrong and he has no problem with it opening as long as they can be good neighbors and "respect our city," he wrote on the "East Ridge Neighborhood Watch" Facebook page.

Others felt it would just be a repeat of Superior Creek's problems.

"With so many new businesses and how good the other side of (Interstate) 75 looks, I would have thought it would be a better decision to knock the whole place down and build a quality hotel or restaurant," wrote Cliff Moore on the page. "This place will continue to be what it always was."

Custer said the city would have purchased the land if they wanted to tear it down. Steinman said they have come a long way in managing a relationship with the city and other local officials.

"I want to emphasize this is a weekly thing and not your permanent address," Steinman said.

Standard rooms will be $259 per week, plus tax, and the one-bedroom, apartment-style rooms will average about $100 more a week, according to Steinman. For more information, visit Budgetel Chattanooga's website at budgetel.com/hotel-details/bi-chattanooga-tn.

Contact staff writer Allison Shirk at ashirk@timesfreepress.com, @Allison_Shirk or 423-757-6651.