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Owner tries to tame two 34th Street motels, succeeds with at least one

ST. PETERSBURG — Michael Shimshoni is discovering how difficult it can be for a business owner to make a dent in crime.

A year ago, he vowed to turn around two motels on 34th Street N that were magnets for police sirens. One motel, which Shimshoni had just taken over from previous management, was on the verge of being shut down by the city's nuisance abatement board. The other, which he owned for years, was visited by police almost daily.

Today, the two motels are a study in contrasts. Shimshoni remade the Economy Inn Express at 701 34th St. N, renaming it the Kenwood Village Inn, remodeling it and surrounding it with a security fence. Neighbors say it is now quiet and uneventful. Meanwhile, police calls for service to the Mosley Motel at 401 34th St. N have dropped only slightly in the past year, while the number of police reports filled out have actually increased.

St. Petersburg police say that's because Shimshoni is helping them clamp down on crime by having his staff call the police when something is wrong and sticking around to help them take reports. The strategy grew out of talks that the motel owner had with community leaders in recent years.

"We don't take any chances," Shimshoni said. "If we think there is any potential for danger, we call."

The city's nuisance abatement board, an arm of the Police Department that monitors troubled properties, closed its file on the Economy Inn Express in December. A report from January 2009 had found that the hotel was the site of drug dealing and drug use, with employees facilitating sales and usage.

After taking over the troubled motel in early 2009, Shimshoni closed it for renovations. It reopened in October as an extended-stay motel, along with a new name and a slew of new rules that include requiring visitors to show identification.

For nearby residents who had contended with problem motels at that address for years, the change was dramatic.

"The neighbors in Kenwood don't complain to me about the Kenwood Village Inn" anymore, said Paul Dickens, coordinator of the Historic Kenwood Neighborhood Watch.

According to police, there were 114 calls for service at the Kenwood Village Inn between January 2009 and this week. Of those, a police report was taken only 35 times.

While things quieted down there, the Mosley was getting busier. There were 235 police reports taken there between May 2009 and 2010, compared to 192 between May 2008 and 2009, according to the police. Total calls from service there, including those where a report was not taken, dropped slightly from 743 to 647 in that time period, according to police.

"I think the whole street is looking better," said Shimshoni, who credited the city's expanded panhandling ordinance with helping to clean up the area.

Not everyone is happy with the Mosley. A former resident, George Petz, 52, says in a lawsuit filed in the 6th Judicial Circuit Court that he was assaulted at the motel in March. Petz's lawyer, Mark Tischhauser, charges in court papers that by keeping lax security and not screening guests, the Mosley "facilitates a large amount of criminal or unscrupulous behavior."

While declining to discuss the suit, Shimshoni said the Mosley prides itself on its good security.

Shimshoni said he is continuing to invest in his businesses. He recently allowed a bikini bar in a small building alongside the Mosley, where a room can be had for $39 a night, $179 a week or $729 a month, plus tax. (The rates are nearly the same at the Kenwood Village Inn.)

He said the bar is going to be run by separate management.

City Council member Jeff Danner, who praised Shimshoni for cleaning up the Kenwood Village Inn and stepping up efforts at the Mosley, frowned upon the bikini bar.

"That's kind of counterproductive to what we are trying to do," said Danner, who represents the area. "I'm not sure how you provide quiet housing for a legitimate customer and then have a bikini bar that is open until 3 a.m."

Luis Perez can be reached at (727) 892-2271 or lperez@sptimes.com.

Owner tries to tame two 34th Street motels, succeeds with at least one 09/07/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 11:54am]
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