The owner of a U.S. 1 motel that gained notoriety after it was discovered Sept. 11 attackers stayed there wants to demolish part of his decades-old establishment and build a hotel in its place.
Suresh Patel, owner of the Pin-Del Motel in Laurel, said he wants to add a Days Inn and Suites on his 2 1/2 -acre property. The move would coincide with the county's efforts to revitalize the decaying commercial strip along U.S. 1.
Patel's plans call for upgrades and renovations to a newer part of his motel, a two-story, 23-unit space that was built in 1986, and demolition of the rest. In its place, he plans to build a three-story Days Inn. The renovation also would be part of the Days Inn, bringing the room total to 85 and more than doubling the size of the current 37-room motel and apartment complex.
Patel said he is awaiting financing approvals and has not submitted building plans to the county, but expects to do so within a month. If county approvals go smoothly, the building could be up by the end of the year and open early next year.
"Most of the people who are traveling are looking for the franchise properties," Patel said. "We decided to go with Days Inn because we don't have it within a 30-mile area."
Patel, who has owned the motel for 26 years, said he is making the move to a franchise in part because he wants to raise the caliber of his clientele. His motel has been the site of several fights and drug arrests, and Patel complains that patrons steal from him and damage the rooms.
He is not the only motel owner hoping to build anew on U.S. 1. Rakesh "RC" Shah has plans to demolish part of his Valencia Motel to build an 88-room Sleep Inn.
U.S. 1 revitalization advocates say the developments are just the kind of effort the community needs.
"Hotels are a viable business along the corridor. To the extent that a new hotel would upgrade is a plus in anybody's book," said Kevin Doyle, co-chairman of the U.S. 1 revitalization task force.
"A lot of what we need to do initially is change the image [of the corridor]," he said. "The larger [hotel owners] are much more conscious of the types of activities that happen in their businesses. When someone has put that kind of money in their property, they're interested in keeping a higher profile of their business and clientele."
Patel said he has aspired to upgrade his property for years. In 1999, he spent $10,000 to fight the county for a change in a zoning line that divided the hotel from his home behind it. Without it, any new structure would have been subject to laws governing business construction near residential property. After an eight-month battle, he was granted the change he sought.
He operates the motel behind a window of 2-inch bulletproof glass, he said, to protect him from armed robbers, angry or violent patrons and the randomness of the most logical kind of roomer: motorists who see his sign from the road. With a Days Inn, he is looking forward to seeing fewer testy customers and more guests who have made reservations.
"I decided to go with a franchise because a franchise draws good-quality people," he said. "[Because] the people think, 'This is independent,' all kind of people come - criminal people. I'm tired of that."
He also hopes that with the hotel he will be able to charge higher rates and increase occupancy. Pin-Del's occupancy rate is between 30 percent and 40 percent, he said, and rooms are $42 for a single bed and $55 for a double bed.
"An independent hotel, we don't expect more. You draw the public from the road," he said "But once you get the Days Inn, because they advertise for us ... that would boost my occupancy maybe 65 percent, maybe more."