Residents and Woodbury city officials turned up the heat on the Red Roof Inn in the wake of an officer-involved shooting at the embattled motel.
Calls for the motel to be shut down came amid the release of Woodbury Public Safety Department data that shows the Red Roof Inn to be the leader in calls for service by Woodbury police among local lodging establishments.
From January through August 2012, the Red Roof Inn received 132 calls for service by Woodbury police, according to police. The second-highest hotel - the Woodbury Extended Stay America - had 36 calls during the same period.
Last year, the Red Roof Inn received 206 calls for service, up from 164 in 2010.
Incidents at the Red Roof Inn included a flashpoint on Aug. 31, when police, responding to a disturbance at the motel, opened fire on a St. Paul man who had bolted from a second-story room after a gun went off in the room.
The man, who later died, had been a hostage inside the room along with 10 others - some of whom were allegedly raped before the standoff ended four hours later. The suspect, Demetrius Santreell Ballinger of Stillwater, was later charged with 27 felony counts in connection with the case.
The shooting kicked off a public outry against the Red Roof Inn.
"The city shares the community's concerns about the level of criminal activity at the Red Roof Inn," Woodbury City Administrator Clint Gridley said in a prepared statement. "It is our intention to be in contact with the hotel management to seek to improve the situation."
The statement didn't sit well with Red Roof Inn corporate officials.
"It is unfortunate that the city administrator issued a statement prior to contacting company management to discuss the hotel's commitment to guest safety and its long-standing cooperative relationship with the Woodbury Police Department," according to a statement released last week by the company."
The statement, which calls for "a dialogue" with city officials regarding police activity at the motel, directly addresses calls for service at Woodbury's Red Roof Inn.
"A review of the police call log shows that the vast majority of the police calls for service were routine or informational in nature or involved noise complaints, lockouts, medical assistance, and other minor activity that resulted in no further police action," the statement reads. "Red Roof will continue to always put guest and employee safety first."
Shut it down?
While Red Roof officials attempted to tamp down concerns at the motel, one Woodbury resident sought just the opposite.
Melanie Snyder called for major changes at the Red Roof through a grassroots campaign she launched Thursday, Sept. 6.
She established an online petition titled "Shut down the Red Roof Inn."
Snyder said she and her husband, a Minneapolis police officer, moved to Woodbury in recent years after dealing with crime in their old neighborhood in St. Paul's east side.
"And now it's happening here," she said.
Snyder said she had followed the local police blotter and noticed a disturbing trend at the Red Roof. So she called Woodbury police and requested reports from calls to Woodbury's lodging establishments.
"The Red Roof Inn had far more calls," Snyder said.
The recent shooting was the tipping point for her.
After that, she and her neighbors discussed criminal activity at the Red Roof during the Labor Day weekend.
"This is enough," Snyder said she decided. "Now we have to make a change at this place."
A statement included in her online petition - which had received 206 signatures early this week - also calls for change.
"This is my backyard, where myself and many others raise our children," the statement reads. "Its (sic) time to clean it up."
She acknowledged that shuttering the motel won't be as easy as she had originally hoped.
Gridley's statement made clear that the city can't just have the motel shut down.
"Many people think the city has broad power when it comes to regulating businesses within our community," he said. "In reality, our authority is limited."
Snyder said short of shutting down the Red Roof, she would like to see major changes there.
"It's really about cleaning it up and making it better," she said. "But something has to give."
She said that should include changing the motel's payment policy - which is cash-only - to one that requires credit cards. She also called for the Red Roof Inn to pay for an off-duty police officer to be stationed there.
"Other establishments do that," Snyder said.
Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens said the city will be meeting with Red Roof Inn management to discuss the situation. She did not outline changes that might be sought, but said the city will insist on actions to improve operations there.
"City Council is taking the matter seriously," Stephens said. "We do intend to look at these options."
Issues like the motel's rates and policies will go under the microscope during those meetings, said Public Safety Department Director Lee Vague. He also declined to share specific targets for change, but said "there are some more immediate things that we'd like to be involved in" at the Red Roof.
"Clearly, we've got some strategies," he said.
Vague steered clear of calling the Red Roof Inn a problematic business, despite the calls for service reported there.
He said early indications from Red Roof management has left him optimistic that positive changes can be made there.
"They want to fix things as well," he said. "I think we're all on the same page here."
Vague said Public Safety can't be the sole driver behind changes at the Red Roof. He said code enforcement and community development will also be part of the equation.
Redevelopment is one idea that appeals to City Council Member Christopher Burns.
"I certainly would be personally interested in seeing that property redeveloped and having the private sector find a use and purpose consistent with city zoning," he said.
Burns said Community Development Director Dwight Picha had drawn up areas in Woodbury to be targeted for redevelopment. The area surrounding the Red Roof was among them, Burns said.
"That area, if not that property, has been flagged as a redevelopment opportunity in the last handful of years," Burns said.
But why did it take the shooting incident to bring concerns at the Red Roof to the forefront?
Vague said perceptions that little had been done through policy and enforcement are false.
He said Woodbury police have produced many self-generated calls at the Red Roof.
"It's safe to say that some of the calls we've had there are the result of proactive policing," Vague said.
He said police have had "a great deal of enforcement activity" at the Red Roof before the shooting and have worked with management there, in addition to city code enforcement and community development leaders.
"I think people need to realize we do not have licensing authority for hotels," Vague said. "That said, I believe the tools are in place to resolve problems like these."
It wasn't clear when the meeting between motel management and city officials would occur or when City Council might address the issue. The council's Sept. 12 meeting agenda didn't address Red Roof issues.
Snyder said she hopes to take her online petition to a future City Council meeting.
"My intention is ... so that I would have evidence that I'm not the only Woodbury resident that's concerned with what's going on," she said.