Two weeks before National Night Out, more than a dozen shots were fired outside of Motel 6 in Rochester, injuring a 20-year-old woman. The incident was the final straw for some of those who call the northwest neighborhood home.
At the neighborhood’s National Night Out gathering, ongoing issues with Motel 6 were the main topic of discussion. What could be done with a property that neighbors say has been a problem for years?
Between Jan. 1, 2020, and Aug. 12, 2021, Rochester police have been called to the motel 96 times, according to a records request filed by the Post Bulletin.
Of those calls, 23 have been about trespassing and 10 have been disorderly conduct. Fifteen of the calls were categorized by the department as "assist," which is a catchall word for requests that don't fit a specific category and could involve officers doing a welfare check, helping someone with a concern, or helping management check a room.
Rochester police Lt. Jon Turk said the high number of disorderly and trespassing calls needs to be addressed.
"One of the approaches that we want to take is to work with the owner of the property to address the issues," Turk said. "We need their cooperation as well. The owners have indicated that they are willing to address the issues of either the condition of the property or also their policies on how they rent a room."
While calls for service may be an indication that there are issues at the motel, Turk said that the calls are often generated by staff from Motel 6, meaning they are being proactive by calling for help when they are have someone who is trespassing or someone has overstayed their welcome.
Turk said the motel has been making steady progress since neighbors brought their issues to the attention of the police and city.
A hotel or motel is not a licensed or permitted business in the city, unlike a restaurant that serves alcohol. Because the city isn’t the licensing agency, the city “doesn’t really have any hook to proactively address these types of concerns,” Interim City Attorney Michael Spindler-Krage wrote in an email.
That doesn’t mean, though, that the city has no involvement. The Rochester Police Department has worked to address the concerns of neighbors through a collaboration with multiple departments within the city and county.
“We don't have an interest in shutting them down, we just feel, like others, there can be improvements on the upkeep of the property and have a better system of how they are renting to people,” Turk said. “They are willing to work with us, so I think we can work through making it a better place for the neighborhood and those who need to rent a room at that price point.”
Rochester resident Frances Lepa knew about the reputation of Motel 6 before moving to the neighborhood eight years ago, but it didn’t stop her. The issues at Motel 6 haven’t directly impacted her, but she said she wants to support her fellow neighbors after hearing their concerns at National Night Out.
“It seemed clear, judging by the response, that many people had been thinking the same thing,” Lepa said. “Sometimes it takes that one person to make the move.”
At the end of the month, the neighbors will meet with police and Rochester City Council member Molly Dennis, who represents Ward 6, to discuss their concerns and what has been done since National Night Out.
Mark Hrubetz lives about three blocks west of the motel and has lived in the neighborhood for more than three decades. A retired member of law enforcement, Hrubetz said he isn’t bothered by the motel, but knows that isn’t the case for others in his neighborhood.
“I know a lot of other people are scared and worried," Hrubetz said, adding that it is important for neighbors to have safety practices like keeping their lights on and doors locked. “It's all part of it. The police can’t do everything on that. It’s up to the individual, too.”
If the issues have been around for years, many may ask why take action now?
“I think when something finally happens in your front yard, people get upset and I think that’s why,” Hrubetz said of a neighbor who helped mobilize others around the issue.
Some neighbors have asked for a surveillance camera to be installed to monitor the property. While a permanent camera is not likely, Turk said he is looking into a camera that could be moved around the city on a temporary basis -- something that currently isn’t in the police department’s toolbox.
A number of issues not related to police calls have also been brought to the attention of the city and county.
Taryn Edens, the Community Development Housing & Neighborhood Services Supervisor, said while no formal violation letters have been mailed to the motel, there are needed restorations, including a fence in disrepair and repairs/replacement of the second-floor balconies, deteriorating guardrails on the south side of the building, and a sidewalk hazard.
The person who answered the phone at the motel referred the Post Bulletin to the national office for comment.
In a statement from the national motel chain, a spokesman said late last month, "We are in contact with the owner of the Rochester property, and we understand that the property owner is working with construction teams and city officials to address the situation.”
“Please be assured that we are committed to operating safely and responsibly in the communities where our hotels operate," the statement concluded.