By Tao Woolfe
Almost every South Florida city has a hotel that has seen better days, but Boynton Beach’s no-tell-motel — the Homing Inn — was so notorious that the city passed a chronic-nuisance ordinance to stem its worst excesses.
“There were murders, suicides, overdoses and prostitution there,” said City Manager Daniel Dugger, who served on the city’s police force for many years and witnessed firsthand some of the hotel’s dark events.
City Commissioner Thomas Turkin agreed. “It was a terrible, terrible place,” he said.
City officials point to the former owner’s recent sale of the Homing Inn as proof that the ordinance’s fines and restrictions were effective.
The new owners — much to the delight of the City Commission and the Police Department — have already begun transforming the 2.89-acre property at 2821 S. Federal Highway into a boutique hotel.
“You’ll see a tremendous difference in about 30 days,” said new General Manager Dominic Monteleone. “We want everything to be clean, and nice, and new.”
Monteleone said he has already asked tenants who had no identification to move out. Others, especially those on welfare or Social Security, have been put on notice that they must find other accommodations once the renovations begin in earnest.
“Two of the four buildings have been closed and we are gutting the rooms and replacing all the furniture, doors and fixtures,” the general manager said.
“We kept two of the buildings open to allow the people still here to find a new place.”
The motel, which has 104 rooms, was built in 1990 and was sold to a Miami developer in 1998 for about $3 million. It went downhill from there.
“Fifteen to 20 years ago there was a lot of prostitution and drug sales along Federal Highway during the crack epidemic,” Dugger said. “And then came the heroin and fentanyl overdoses.”
The result, Dugger said, was that the Homing Inn was ground zero for blight and crime and unsavory tenants who were “using their hotel for other purposes.”
Monteleone agreed and said that at one point terrorists used the Homing Inn as a base of operations.
According to government records and published reports, 9/11 terrorist hijacker Wail al-Shehri rented a room at the hotel for $260 a week beginning in June before the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.
At least two of his associates also stayed at the hotel. Satam Al-Suqami — another of the American Flight 11 hijackers who crashed the plane into the North Tower — listed the hotel’s address on his Florida driver license.
City will try to help
The new owner, Rore Investing, is based in Jacksonville and has more than $300 million in assets, according to the company’s website. It owns and operates several La Quinta hotels in South Florida, including ones in Coral Springs, West Palm Beach, Miami and Plantation.
Rore bought the Homing Inn last August for $8.8 million.
Commissioner Turkin said the new owner seems amenable to working with the city, and the Community Redevelopment Agency is looking into ways it can help facilitate the renovation.
“The hotel has good bones, which is why they’re going to renovate the interior and exterior,” Turkin said. “I think they’re adding a new pool and the rooms will have a few different boutique-style designs. I’m excited to see changes in the perception of that site.”
Dugger said he thinks downtown property owners will be tempted to raze and replace their properties to take advantage of housing incentives included in recently enacted legislation.
The Live Local Act, passed by the Florida Legislature in March and signed by the governor, was designed to spur the creation of more affordable housing. The law, which takes effect July 1, allows developers to add more density and height to buildings than those allowed by local zoning code if at least 40% of the units are workforce housing. Some tax exemptions are also available.
Workforce housing allows working people, such as police officers and firefighters, to purchase homes below market prices. The added height and density allow developers to make more profit.
Dugger said he would not be surprised if Rore decides to build workforce housing as part of its future developments.
Meanwhile, the Homing Inn renovation plan continues apace.
In late May, big red containers behind the dingy, beige buildings were filled with new fixtures and furnishings. Refuse from the gutted rooms in Building A spilled over the top of a graffiti-covered green Dumpster.
The grass and hedges around the buildings were overgrown, and the parking lots were pocked with potholes. Lush greenery — designer palms and flowering trees — added an incongruous element of grace.
Yelp reviews revealed how decrepit the rooms had become.
“When we came in the room, it smelled weird, the restroom reeked so bad,” Issac F. wrote a couple of years ago. “The first few minutes I got super itchy and there were stains in the bedsheets like blood and black mold … the next morning there was a dead wolf spider.”
He gave the room one star.
Dugger said that there were a few hotels and motels along Federal Highway that catered to people’s vices, but the Homing Inn was the worst of them.
The language of the chronic-nuisance ordinance, passed by the city in 2017, does not single out a particular business, but the target, Dugger and Turkin said, was the sprawling campus of the Homing Inn.
“Chronic-nuisance properties require disproportionate police, fire rescue and community standards services,” the ordinance says. It requires the city to identify nuisance activities; hold the property owner or manager responsible; assist the victims of crimes and penalize those who permitted conditions that give rise to excessive police and fire department calls; establish rules, procedures and penalties; and impose penalties such as fines.
The ordinance outlines chronic criminal activities that paint a picture of what went on at the Homing Inn. They include: dealing in stolen property; cruelty to animals; disorderly intoxication; loitering or prowling in proximity to children; criminal gang activity; drug sales; domestic violence; and prostitution.
It’s not clear how far the city went to enforce the ordinance.
But Monteleone said of the previous owner: “You can get away with not putting any money into a property for a little while, but he put no money back into the property for 20 years.” The new hotel will charge $250 to $300 a night, Monteleone said, and will probably be under the Marriott umbrella.
“We are completely renovating the lobby and will offer free breakfast,” he said. “And we will be creating about 30 jobs, offering food services and a new pool.
“We’re here to do good.”