Pressure to Sell
McAllister says he gets calls, visits, even offerings of food, as part of efforts to have him sell the Desert Rose Inn motel on 655 West 4th Street in downtown Reno, amid expansion plans by Jacobs Entertainment Inc. to build a new "mini-Vegas" stretching from the Gold Dust West to the Sands casinos.
“People are coming to my door on a Saturday morning and offering contracts when I refuse to answer their calls," he said. "They are contacting everyone. People on the side the Desert Rose Inn is on have not sold. Some of the motel owners have been here 20-25 years, this is their life. I’m sure some would sell at a decent price. But some might also say ‘I like doing this. I don’t want to sell but I feel like I’m being pressured to sell or I am going to be legislated out of my existence'.”
Soon to Be Legislated out of Business?
Talked about ideas around City Council include requiring motel owners via ordinances to add costly kitchenettes to rooms for longer term tenants, such as what recently happened in South Lake Tahoe.
McAllister has previously thought of remodeling and adding amenities, but also thinks these changes would make the cost of rooms go up at his motel, which would hurt his clientele. "There are people who can’t afford a deposit, who can’t afford first/last month, they don’t have the credit checks required for an apartment," he said.
For new clientele, his going rate is $200 a week. "With that you get your phone, your wifi, full cable, housekeeping, and you get all your utilities paid for, plus your trash and everything else," he explained.
He used to have monthly possibilities, but that created problems.
"We got rid of monthlies. It was too much trouble," he said. "Once a person plops down money for a month, you’ve got them and the next day they turn out to be crazy. It’s safer for our clients, it’s safer for us. You don’t want that in the place."
Media Bias and a Bad Rap?
McAllister has also contracted with Northern Nevada Hopes for clients transitioning from medical cases into permanent housing. He sees his motel as having value for people who can't afford to live anywhere else. He also says the treatment of motel owners in local media is generally unfair.
"You’re getting the voice of developers, the city looks at them and says there is going to be more revenue coming in. The bad rap? In some cases it might be warranted. These are old places. But they’ve also been providing housing for people who can’t find housing. Statistically people who have shelter cost much less to cities. They are more secure. They are more mentally stable. You can also find them if you want to have outreach programs for them."
A Diverse Clientele including Families
McAllister says those who live longer term at his motel include casino and hotel workers, cab drivers, warehousing employees, elderly on Social Security, veterans on military pensions , and young families trying to find better housing.
He doesn't like when families are forced to live in a motel room, but he says he does what he can to help them.
"If this is the only place they can stay, then at least we give them a safe environment. We have a pool for the kids. We’re very proactive about families. We’re very proactive about sexual predators. We’re doing a good job in that niche that we can provide."
Dealing with Code Enforcements
McAllister has heard code enforcement is getting more stringent on motels around town recently. A former policeman from the Bay Area, he also views this with suspicion.
"Sometimes, they will swoop down on your property and they look for every little thing they can find. I think that can be an improper use of government. Having been in the police department, I’ve seen some things that I don’t particularly care for. I’ve seen things that are unfair to the person that it’s being put upon," he said.
In his own experience, so far with the Desert Rose Inn, he said it's mostly dealing with the Health Department and minor complaints.
“If there’s a complaint, they’ll come out and address that. We’ll find a smoke detector doesn’t work or there’s a screen missing from a window. We’ve been pretty good with them. Any bed bug complaints we’ve had, they’ve never been founded. And we have an aggressive program to protect against it."
He says the city government has a unique position, but that it shouldn't overstep in its hyped 'fight on blight.' "They have the ability to regulate facilities, through code enforcement and things like that. As far as blight, whose responsibility is it? The city has all those forces available to it through code enforcement. I think sometimes they are dumping it back on (property) owners, and giving bad PR to them, where they could be working with them, trying to clean places up. Those who can’t, of course you have to come down on them," he said.
A Difficult Journey as an Unflagged Motel Owner
McAllister purchased the Windsor Hotel on West street in 2007, and the Desert Rose Inn the next year, just as the recession worsened. "The Windsor was more hotel and casino employees and they all went away with the crash," he said. "I lost the Windsor through lack of clients, and it got repossessed. It was purchased in a bankruptcy sale."
Unflagged means McAllister is independent and unaffiliated with a major chain. He spent his early days at the Desert Rose Inn, he says, getting rid of bed bugs, prostitutes, drugs and bad contracts. “It was pretty disorganized," he said. "Contracts didn’t make sense. Money was being paid off for services which weren’t even there."
He says he also changed some of his business practices. "We used to bleed money, because people used to skip out on us and wouldn’t pay. You’d get somebody and they’d say 'ok I can pay you next week', and then they’d say it again. So now you’re out the window with the money, but you’ve already provided the services. Now, we try and give people what they expect to get for the $200."
Hiring a new team also really helped, he says: "I finally got a really great crew, and that makes a lot of difference because they’re thinking of things before the problem is even there," he said. "I have a great general manager, housekeeping, and maintenance crews. My general manager has a lot of contact with people, she’s sharp."
Worries Grow Amid New Development
What his manager keeps telling him, McAllister said, is that people living at the Desert Rose Inn are also worried.
"They’re worried about what’s happening around here, because their security is being threatened. We don’t like change. It’s work to change. We’ve got some place where they feel decent, and they can afford the rent and then go out and work and provide for themselves and their families. Now they are not sure what’s going to happen to us, or motels down the street," he said. "For people who have a fixed amount they can spend on housing, they’re really strapped."
Not Against Development
McAllister says he's not against development, but he says if things aren't done right it could be catastrophic for some of the less affluent members of our community, as more and more motels are shut down, before any new construction begins.
"The area is in need of development. You’ve got vacant lots," he said.
"You’ve got closed down properties. A lot of it is because of the recession. There were plans to build before that and then it all got shut down. Developers have been looking at Reno as an inexpensive place to acquire property and with the gentrification of tech companies moving in, they are looking at it as a center for entertainment for younger, more active people, with higher salaries, so there is money to be had. I don’t fault them for doing that. But you are going to have a couple years of lag if you start a project now to get any type of affordable housing in place."
Reporting by Our Town Reno in October 2017