Neighboring business owners, police and at least one city official say South Nevada Avenue's Cheyenne Motel is a haven for crime. They want it gone.
So far, they seem to be doing a pretty good job running it out of business, says Ken Brown, who leases and runs the motel.
"The city's going to win," he says. "They're just going to put so much pressure on me."
Booting the Cheyenne is part of a plan for South Nevada renewal, one that's expected to import high-end business and residential development. The city, at the urging of City Councilor Jerry Heimlicher, has notified the motel that it's a public nuisance. From Jan. 1, 2006 to April 20, 2008, the city claims, police logged 526 calls for service to the Cheyenne, for everything from noise to shootings. During roughly the same period of time, city code enforcement made 136 visits to the motel.
So now, the city says the Cheyenne either must clean up or face prosecution.
"No [renewal] plan will work if you continue to have prostitutes and drug dealers running the streets," Heimlicher explains.
But Brown, who leases the motel and its neighboring restaurant, Taste of Philly, says he's being harassed by police.
"It's the neighborhood of the poor," he says. "Isn't it always true in the neighborhood of the poor, that you have more problems?"
He's actually tried to curb crime, he says. For instance, the motel forbids guests after 10 p.m. Brown says he's also upgraded the building, though it's hard to keep up with its old age (it was built in 1952), and with tenants who destroy rooms.
Meanwhile, he says, police say he should kick out anyone with a police record.
"That's not the role of the police, is it?" he asks. "To make people who have priors [into] homeless people?"
(Police Det. Olav Chaney counters that Brown ignores crime on the property and houses "known criminals." Cmdr. Kurt Pillard says Brown could and should choose not to rent to people with warrants or long rap sheets, many of whom have destroyed rooms at the motel in the past.)
All of Cheyenne's tenants might be looking for new homes soon. It's possible that property owner Shu Hua Chen, who lives in Taiwan, will sell to a developer. She's entertained two offers from Sam Guadagnoli and Mark Morley, who have bought up much of the surrounding property, but she has asked for more money each time.
Brown, who has franchised eight restaurants, says he never had an interest in the motel it just came along with the restaurant. When his lease runs out in October 2009, he says he might work with Chen to tear down the motel and build a free-standing Taste of Philly on the parcel.
"South Nevada is due for redevelopment," he says. "I'm right in the middle of this; I'm not on either end. Either way, I'm losing money."
In fact, Brown says, he loses tens of thousands on the motel annually. Tenants don't keep up on their rent, and because they're desperate, he's apt to let them slide.
For Brown, there's a sadness to closing the Cheyenne. Some tenants have lived there for 10 years. Others have found jobs and left for better homes with his best wishes.
"Most of the people who live there are not criminals," he says. "It's their home. It's the only place they can afford to live."