ST. PETERSBURG — The city's Nuisance Abatement Board sent a stern warning to the owners of the Mosley Motel last week: Clean up or close your doors.
After a packed hearing at City Hall that lasted nine hours Wednesday, the board voted to close a 40-room wing of the motel and a bikini bar that is part of the business for one year.
If the motel does not show a decrease in police calls for drug activity, the board can ask a judge to permanently shutter the 110-room motel at 401 34th St. N.
The hearing came after St. Petersburg police conducted a seven-month undercover sting at the motel. They made 35 purchases of marijuana, cocaine, Xanax, oxycodone and hydrocodone. Police said several people with warrants for their arrest were residents of the motel. Officers identified the section of the motel targeted by the board as a problem area.
During the hearing, board members chided the motel owners and employees for suggesting that they were not aware that drug dealing was going on.
Julius Mosley, a second-generation St. Petersburg landlord, said he was doing his best to run a safe business in an area overrun with drugs and prostitution, but that it wasn't easy to keep the "bad apples" out.
Mosley and co-owner Michael Shimshoni said they were surprised by the drug sting, and saw it as a sign the city was not working with them. In the recent past, local elected officials credited Shimshoni for turning around the Kenwood Village Inn, at 701 34th St. N, which he purchased and refurbished after it was targeted as a nuisance property.
Dozens of Mosley's long-term tenants were at the hearing wearing red T-shirts that said "I'm not a nuisance. I love the Mosley Motel." Among them were working parents, children and people who said they were military veterans.
"If you close it, where do we go? What do we have?" said single mother Carron Thomas. "That is my home, regardless of what anybody thinks."
Among those speaking against the motel were many residents of the Skyline Fifth apartments, at 441 33rd St. N. The luxury tower overlooks the Mosley. Its recent opening received fanfare from the city, followed by a new Walmart nearby on Second Avenue N.
Julie Weston, Skyline's business manager, said she had trouble finding tenants for some apartments facing the motel.
"We are losing residents because they don't see any progress happening," Weston told the board.
If nothing is done, she added, "What we are seeing at the Mosley is going to be what Skyline Fifth becomes."
Andrea R. Luce, a lawyer for the Police Department, said the Mosley's owners have been unable to reshape it since taking over in 2006. Under earlier owners, the motel was the subject of four city nuisance complaints, including in 1996, when it was declared a nuisance.
"The Mosley," Luce said, "is synonymous with two words: crack motel."
Joseph N. Perlman, the motel's attorney, said he was considering appealing the order. He said the gentleman's club should not be shuttered because problems about it were not presented to the board.
In the meantime, the motel will comply with other facets of the order, he said. It must hire a licensed private security firm to patrol the property, add wooden fencing and follow several dozen other measures demanded by the board. The Mosley must also pay about $27,000 in fines and attorneys' fees.
Luis Perez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2271.