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August 21, 2014

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Length of stays at motel an issue for arts district

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Steve Marcus

The City Council, expected to vote Nov. 4, could overturn the Planning Commission’s rare rejection of a proposed zoning change.

Downtown residents have lined up against a motel’s plans to convert many of its rooms into “extended stay” quarters.

The plan to lure stay-by-the-week customers to the Econo Lodge, 1150 S. Las Vegas Blvd., they say, would attract the wrong “element,” including drug addicts and dealers, prostitutes and the sometimes homeless, and change the demographics of the area, harming the arts district to the west and the residential John S. Park neighborhood to the east.

“They adversely affect the businesses around them,” said Cindy Funkhouser, the First Friday arts walk impresario and owner of an antiques store near the motel. “It’s not something a lot of people who live in the area are comfortable with.”

Funkhouser and several others attended an Oct. 8 Las Vegas Planning Commission meeting to express their opposition to the plan. The commission — which rarely recommends against proposed planning and zoning changes — heeded the concerns of Funkhouser’s group and voted the proposal down 3-1.

The City Council, slated to vote on the matter at its Nov. 4 meeting, could ignore the commission’s recommendation and approve Econo Lodge’s request.

The commission vote seemingly puts at odds two council priorities — nurturing the development of downtown into a safe and interesting place where people actually want to live, and preserving a business that has survived there for years.

One of the co-owners of the Econo Lodge, Yair Ben Moshe, said the concerns of critics are unfounded — and that if his opponents succeed, the motel’s survival and the jobs of its 15 employees would be at stake.

Ben Moshe and his architect, Dennis Rusk, contend that the rooms would be used primarily by businessmen, laborers and others looking for work.

“It’s a shame that they’re taking the position that they want us to go out of business, because that is what’s going to happen” if the proposal fails, Ben Moshe said. “We’re trying to do nothing but survive in this economy.”

The motel, between Las Vegas Boulevard and Fourth Street just south of Charleston Boulevard, is seeking permission to turn 40 of its 120 rooms into extended-stay residences. That would allow the rooms to be rented for a week to a month. Without the permit, guests typically cannot stay at such establishments for longer than a couple of weeks. The permit would last for two years.

Ben Moshe said he needs to be able to offer lower-priced extended-stay rooms. With the price of Las Vegas hotel rooms dropping, the property is having a difficult time competing with lower-priced casino-hotels such as Palace Station and the Riviera.

Ben Moshe said he’s made sure that his property, the exterior of which was recently remodeled, has not turned into a home for day users, drug users or prostitutes.

According to a Metro Police spokeswoman, police received four calls from the Econo Lodge over a recent 30-day period, including two about auto burglaries, and one about malicious destruction of private property.

The motel is in a gritty part of downtown and surrounded by another motel, an auto garage and a strip club. The neighborhood is part of the city’s redevelopment area, where the city offers tax incentives to attract businesses and generally make the area more livable for workers and residents.

“The RDA philosophy should be to reduce blight and enhance quality of life. This proposal doesn’t do that,” said Steve Franklin, a Realtor who specializes in downtown properties. “It’s going to add to the transient nature of the neighborhood.”

Franklin joined Funkhouser at the Planning Commission to oppose the plan.

Both sides said that they plan to lobby the council in the coming weeks, including Mayor Pro Tem Gary Reese, in whose ward the motel is located. Reese could not be reached for comment.

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