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(SUN POST STAFF PHOTO BY KEVIN MILLER)

The Brooklyn Center City Council plans to renew a hospitality license for the city’s Radisson Hotel at 2250 Freeway Blvd. despite the hotel’s code violations and late license renewal request.

Brooklyn Center’s City Council plans to renew a hospitality license for the city’s Radisson Hotel despite the hotel’s code violations and late license renewal request, the council decided at its Oct. 12 meeting.

According to city staff members, the hotel violated several code stipulations. Foremost, the hotel has been operating as a homeless shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic under a contract with the state, a use not allowed for hotels in the city’s zoning laws, and operated without a valid hospitality license for approximately four months.

Additionally, the hotel’s previously unpaid lodging taxes and utility charges, and a significant increase in calls for police service at the hotel were all listed as potential reasons to not renew the hotel’s license in a letter sent to the hotel manager Sept. 25.

“I think the real facts to remain focused upon is that the hotel’s business model is not a homeless shelter. They are not designed, not structured to be a homeless shelter. They’ve stepped up in theses extraordinary times to fill a need, while at the same time, their regular business has declined precipitously,” said Councilmember Dan Ryan.

“I think we we’ve all recognized that the hotel has made a good-faith effort to address a number of these issues and that we have to get to a point where we can get compliance to our ordinances, at the same time without penalizing a good-faith effort on the part of the hotel.”

Given the nature of the pandemic and the financial impact it has brought with it, the council expressed a willingness to renew the license with a list of conditions recommended by the city’s staff.

Part of a trend

In an effort to reduce the danger of large COVID-19 outbreaks in crowded homeless shelters, the state has turned to hotels to provide respite to families and individuals experiencing homelessness, particularly those with underlying health conditions. Through a third-party administrator, the Radisson has contracted to use some of its rooms to shelter the homeless.

At its most occupied, the hotel served 82 clients in 67 rooms. The hotel has a total of 174 rooms. At the time of the public hearing for the license, there were 35 rooms occupied in the hotel through the state contract. Stays typically ranged from a week to two months. A third-party service provider offers services to the clients during their stay.

The hotel’s hospitality license expired April 30, and the management applied for a renewal Sept. 1. Thus, the hotel operated for several months without a valid license.

While the state contract has helped to keep the hotel afloat and avoid layoffs, the business is still losing money, the owner said.

The hotel’s owner said that as a new operator in the area, management was unaware that it needed to renew the license. The hotel renewed its liquor license with the city, but was not notified that it would need to update its hospitality license, he said.

The hotel also had unpaid lodging taxes and an outstanding balance of $50,049 in utility charges owed to the city. Both of these were paid prior to the public hearing. The owner said a third-party management company had been responsible for the earlier lack of payment.

The hotel is designed for limited stays, and is not physically set up as a long-term homeless shelter, city attorney Troy Gilchrist said. As a result, the hotel is in violation of the city’s zoning ordinances. However, the council has sought regulatory flexibility in other areas related to the pandemic and could do so here as well, he said.

Police calls at the property increased in 2020, particularly in the period between June and August. The police department has responded to 253 calls for service at the property, with 204 of those occurring between June and August. Compared to 2019 calls for service, there was a 716% increase in calls in this three month period.

Police commander Richard Gabler said that calls have come from both the hotel and surrounding properties, and have included crimes such as robbery, assault, domestic assault, auto theft, trespassing and burglary.

New stipulations

City staff recommended that the council either not renew the license, or immediately implement a set of conditions as part of the license.

City staff recommended that no more than 35 guest rooms be used for homeless shelter rooms, and that the homeless shelter use must cease within 60 days of the end of the Governor’s declaration of a peacetime emergency related to the pandemic. But based on the recommendation of Councilmember April Graves, the council decided that 50 units and 90 days to cease operations was more appropriate.

“Mainly I’m just thinking about the staff’s ability and the service provider’s ability and capacity to adequately serve the families that would be there,” Graves said.

Other conditions include more frequent city inspections and meetings with the city, registration and towing of unauthorized vehicles, and notification if the service provider for those experiencing homelessness changes.

Mayor Mike Elliott said he was opposed to adding any conditions to the license beyond regular meetings with city staff. Limiting the total number of guest rooms for the homeless clients felt arbitrary, and puts the hotel in a difficult spot if the pandemic worsens and more rooms are needed, he said.

“The need is really great – it fluctuates, and I think we’re focusing on the wrong thing by limiting the number of units,” he said.

City manger Curt Boganey said the conditions were not arbitrary, and were based on city’s staff capacity and their ability to implement the city’s health and safety goals for the hotel. “We do not have unlimited staff to provide the services that are needed,” he said.

Councilmembers Kris Lawrence-Anderson, Marquita Butler, and Ryan spoke in favor of renewing the license with conditions.

“I think that’s the prudent thing to do right now due to the pandemic,” Lawrence-Anderson said.

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