A Woodbury motel that was once the scene of a deadly hostage situation in 2012 is changing its name, and its owner said he’s hoping for a new start.
A spokeswoman for the corporate hotel chain Red Roof Inn confirmed Monday that the Woodbury location is no longer operating under that name after the franchise agreement was terminated. The budget motel, located off Interstate 494, is now under the name Woodbury Key Inn Suites and is still under the same ownership.
“Red Roof Inn’s agreement with the hotel property in Saint Paul – Woodbury has been terminated,” said a statement from Red Roof Inn’s corporate office. “The property is no longer a Red Roof Inn.
For years, Woodbury residents have voiced concerns about the motel.
In 2012, a Stillwater man held almost a dozen hostages at gunpoint while he sexually assaulted four women in a motel room. The assailant, Demetrius Ballinger, was sentenced to 36 years in prison for five separate felony charges.
Police mistakenly shot and killed a 19-year-old man after he attempted to escape from Ballinger.
The motel continues to attract a number of police calls citing possible drug use and other suspicious activity, according to police reports.
Last September, a police sting at the motel saw several men charged with soliciting sex from minors. None of the men were motel guests, and the motel had no knowledge of the sting.
With attempts to put the past behind, the motel recently upped its security by adding 22 cameras and began enforcing stricter rules on extended stays, said owner Percy Pooniwala, who has owned the motel since 2013 under the name Woodbury Lodging LLC .
“We’ve made a lot of changes in the past five months,” he said. “There is hope that this will be better.”
Eric Kota, a property manager of the motel, said problems at the motel have been reduced since Pooniwala bought it. “We don’t have any problems,” he said.
Police reports, however, don’t fully support Kota’s claim.
In the past two years, the motel saw scores of police calls, ranging from allegations of drug use, assaults and theft to other suspicious activity, according to police reports.
Pooniwala said the amount of calls are misleading because officers log them each time they come by the motel.
But according to city officials, incident complaint reports are not recorded an when officers make contact with people in the community. This includes when officers introduce themselves to business owners and residents or answer questions.
Woodbury Police spokeswoman Michelle Okada said when officer is casually interacting with a person or driving through an area and makes an arrest, then the interaction appears in the report.
These reports have steadily increased at the motel from 2013 to 2015, according to information from the Woodbury Police Department.
Last year, the city reported more than 180 ICRs at the motel, up from 156 in 2013. As of July 10, police recorded 83 ICRs.
Christina Samson, a front-desk worker at the motel, said the transition under the Key Inn Suites name has been steady over the past two weeks and included a complete overturn of staff.
Despite the motel’s past, Samson said it wasn’t a factor in her taking the job, and her experience has been “the complete opposite” from what she’s heard about the motel.
“It’s a fresh, clean change and a fresh start,” Samson said. “People need to let go and move forward.”
Woodbury resident Maria Bartha, who lives a half mile from the motel, said she’s concerned about activity at the motel.
When asked about the Red Roof Inn’s re-branding, Bartha said she’s skeptical it’ll lead to any serious change.
Though Pooniwala said the franchising negotiations with Red Roof Inn are still ongoing, certain details about the termination remain unclear.
Karen Zhu, a spokeswoman for Red Roof Inn’s corporate office, said franchisees are required to meet specific conditions under the franchising agreement, but she declined to comment whether or not the Woodbury location failed to uphold certain criteria under the agreement.
In a letter to the Woodbury Bulletin, Kota said the Red Roof Inn franchise threatened to pull out after the motel received critical attention alleging a high-level of criminal activity.
The motel’s appearance still remains the same, with the exception of a nearby sign facing the interstate that was taken down some time ago.
The Red Roof Inn logo was still above the motel lobby entrance on Monday.
A website under the domain name “keyinnwoodbury.com” was registered March 31 and listed the motel’s address and phone number, according to internet domain registrar GoDaddy.
That same month, the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office terminated Woodbury Lodging LLC’s limited liability status in Minnesota for failure to file an annual renewal. Pooniwala later refiled a renewal in May.
Pooniwala also owns a number chain hotels in the Twin Cities metro and said negative media attention about the Woodbury motel has started to affect financing for his other hotel chains.
Business at the Woodbury motel has also declined, he said.
“The damage with potential customers has also been tremendous,” Kota said in the letter. “Currently we are analyzing our losses.”
Washington County assessment records show the property has maintained a steady valuation of about $1.7 million since it dropped from more than $2 million in 2010.
Pooniwala bought the motel for $1.75 million in 2013, according to county property records.