Uneasy Street

Biscayne Boulevard motel owners operate under conflicting pressures A from the police and community to refuse to rent to criminals, and from the economy to rent to anyone who can come up with the roughly $25-per-night charge. Motel managers, unless they are members of the owner's family, almost always are poorly paid at best, stealing from the motel and taking kickbacks from dealers and hookers at worst. "You agree we're not going to attract college material to manage this fleabag motel," attorney Jonathan Schwartz said to the Nuisance Abatement Board last month in reference to the Camelot Inn, the establishment his clients own.

"The big problem with motels is people walk on the property," remarks James Angleton, owner of several properties on Biscayne, including the Economy Inn, which the NAB put on probation in November. "If they're running from the police, they can duck in any parking lot. How can a property owner stop them from coming?"

One way is to live on the property with your family and make sure someone is always watching who's coming in and who's going out. Hemant "Henry" Patel, the 29-year-old owner of the King Motel right next door to the Camelot, is regarded by local authorities as an example of good motel management. Henry or his wife Jaya, or both of them, are always at the motel with their three-year-old daughter. Patel, current president of the Greater Biscayne Boulevard Chamber of Commerce, says in the six years they've run the King, they haven't once attended a community dinner or meeting together. They know their tenants, people such as Edlin Scott and his wife, who come to South Florida from Nassau about once a month to take care of business for their church.

The King loans its rooms to law enforcement agents for stings, sometimes even hastily moving clients to other quarters to free up a desired space. "If we bring in anybody bad, it hurts us," says Henry Patel. "I have committed myself not to do business with the undesirable and antisocial element. I'm bringing up a small daughter. It is absolutely not true that one must rent to the bad element."

Still, one early morning about six months ago, a poorly aimed bullet narrowly missed the front window of the motel A the window to the family's bedroom, where they were sleeping.

Faced with legal problems, unsavory clientele, protests from local residents, and economic insecurity, many Biscayne Boulevard motel owners are trying to sell A and, like Orlando and Manuela Mesa, have been trying for years. Though residential property values east of the boulevard have risen substantially over the past decade, the value of commercial properties on Biscayne has steadily dropped, according to realtors and homeowners. Not that low prices have helped the motels.

Mike Patel, owner of the Royal Motel, another Biscayne Boulevard establishment that hasn't run afoul of authorities, says he is all for turning away prostitutes and drug dealers. But closing down motels simply drives the undesirables to places like his, he points out, which means he has to work harder driving them off. "It's putting pressure on the clean properties," says Patel, who bought the Royal twelve years ago after the city had shut it down. "We have to kick people out every day." Like several other Indian motel owners on the boulevard (many share the same surname but are not necessarily related), Patel lives on the premises and personally looks after all the comings and goings. And, like practically every other property owner on Biscayne, he would prefer to sell his property. "Having a motel on Biscayne Boulevard," he confesses, "is one of the worst businesses you can be in.

 
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