A worn sign, a camper, and a van with an open window and a flat tire greet guests at The Red Carpet Inn and Fanta Suites.
The parking lot is littered with trash and pock-marked with potholes.
What’s inside is even more disturbing to Johnson County and Greenwood officials.
With ever-increasing police calls to the hotel and news that the hotel’s manager died of an accidental overdose on the property last month, concerns are mounting.
Those concerns lead to a multi-agency inspection on Wednesday. The Johnson County Health Department, Greenwood Police Department, Greenwood Fire Department and Greenwood Code Enforcement, along with Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers took part in the inspection.
Reviews of hotel mixed
The hotel, 1117 E. Main St., has been in the city for several decades. A description of the hotel says it’s famous for its oversized tiled whirlpools, and has unique themed rooms ranging from “Cupid’s Corner” to “Le Cave,” according to Tripadvisor.
Reviews of the hotel are mixed, with Google showing 2.8 out of five stars, while Tripadvisor gives it 3.0 stars. A five-star review from January on Tripadvisor said that a guest loved the experience and in particular the themed suites.
A four-star review from July 2021 said that a guest thought their “Pharaoh’s Chambers” suite was very nice. Though there were some issues.
“The TV in the bedroom didn’t work, nor did a couple of the lights, but it was otherwise a very nice suite except for the timer for the whirlpool was extremely short,” the reviewer said.
Other reviews were not as positive. A one-star review from last October headlined “Don’t do it” alleged that a guest’s hotel room wasn’t cleaned, including the bed sheets.
Another one-star review from the same month started with “If I could give negative stars I would.” The guest alleged the lobby wasn’t clean and said when they entered their room, it looked like someone else had slept in their bed. The guest was given another room that was in better condition, but it still had a “funky smell,” the review said.
Several reviews also included photos of guests’ concerns. One review had photos of stained bed sheets while another had photos of roaches in a room. However, it is not clear that the photos were actually taken inside the rooms.
The Daily Journal reached out to the hotel’s owners to ask if they would be willing to comment on the hotel’s condition for this story but did not get a response before deadline on Friday.
Inspection finds multiple issues
During a nearly two-hour inspection, health department officials found issues throughout the hotel. Among the issues found were sewage backups in some rooms and roaches observed in the hotel’s buildings. The rooms that had sewage backups have since been made unavailable for use, Johnson County Health Department director Betsy Swearingen told the Daily Journal Thursday.
Health department officials also expressed concerns about a couple of rooms that were already closed due to the need for repairs. Some of these rooms had mold, and the longer the rooms sit in disrepair, the more the problem is likely to spread, she said.
Other rooms needed repairs ranging from a leaking toilet to a hole in the wall, Swearingen said.
Greenwood police found drug paraphernalia in a couple of the hotel’s unoccupied rooms and a small amount of marijuana in another unoccupied room, police chief Jim Ison told the Daily Journal Friday.
Officers also served a search warrant after health inspectors observed narcotics, including fentanyl and other controlled substances, in plain view while conducting an inspection of an occupied room. The occupants of this room were not there at the time of the search, and criminal charges are being filed, Ison said.
Greenwood police were not at the hotel for criminal investigation purposes, but were there to protect the health department inspectors, Ison said. This is a measure that occasionally happens when the health department goes to certain locations where they may not be welcome, Swearingen said.
With the inspection now complete, the health department will present the hotel’s owners with a spreadsheet detailing work that needs to be completed and what work should be prioritized for public health.
“We will want them to get the rooms that are under service status up to standard and ask them to peel through the list,” Swearingen said.
The health department will give the owners two weeks for substantial progress to be made on the list. If progress is made, the health department will give them more time to continue correcting the issues, she said.
“When they no longer show us progress, other enforcement avenues will be pursued,” Swearingen said.
‘Clear indicators’ of drug use present
During the inspection, Swearingen said there were “clear indicators” of drug use by the hotel’s clients, which is something that should be brought under control.
The Johnson County Health Department had previously approached the owner earlier this year to ask if they could install a NaloxBox on site. Naloxboxes are community aid boxes stocked with the medication naloxone, which can reverse an opioid overdose, and instructions and information about recovery resources. At least 14 of the boxes have been installed across Johnson County by various groups this year.
The owner declined the offer.
“He said there was no need, but after the visit yesterday, there is clearly a need,” she said.
County health officials plan to reapproach the owner and ask if they can get one installed, Swearingen said.
Myers was “very disappointed” in what he saw there, including the living conditions. He takes public safety very seriously and considers it his No. 1 priority, he told the Daily Journal Thursday.
“That hotel is proving to be a very challenging place for both our police and fire departments,” Myers said.
Ordinance in place for license revocation
The city has a hotel ordinance that sets criteria for when a hotel can be forced to close, however, the hotel has not yet met the criteria, officials say.
The city’s hotel ordinance, which was passed in 2019, resulted from concerns raised about the number of calls police and firefighters responded to at hotels near the Interstate 65 and Main Street interchange. From January 2018 to mid-August 2019, police responded to more than 500 incidents at a cluster of hotels and motels near the interchange. The ordinance required that all places of lodging have a city license, and outlines procedures for probation and revoking the license for those that have a high number of calls for police, fire, code and health department violations.
Under the ordinance, if, at any time, a hotel has twice the number of calls for service as it does guest rooms within a one-year period, it would be placed on probation. Calls for service are the total number of calls to law enforcement or the fire department in a one-year period where the calls allege evidence of criminal activity, result in an arrest, charge or citation, or find an imminent threat to the “safety of persons and properties.” It also includes calls made to the code enforcement or the city’s Department of Community Development Services that result in a citation, according to city documents.
During the probationary period, the business owners are expected to take action to mitigate the problems and meet with city officials regularly to discuss the issues. City officials would not tell them how to operate their business but would tell them in what areas changes are needed, according to city documents.
If, after six months of probation, the calls for service ratio has not decreased to less than 1.5 times the number of guest rooms, the city could revoke a hotel or motel’s license and force it to close. The license could also be revoked if the calls for service ratio is at or above 2.0 over any one-year period after the hotel enters the probationary period, city documents say.
Hotel hasn’t met criteria
If only police and fire calls were considered, the hotel could be found in violation of the ordinance. However, the calls have to be related to a criminal offense in order to be considered in violation of the ordinance, Ison said.
The hotel has 83 rooms reported in service, meaning that if it has at least 166 calls for service related to a criminal offense within a one-year period, it would be placed on probation. So far this year, Greenwood police have responded to 67 criminal offenses, mostly narcotics-related, at the hotel, Ison said.
“Sixty-seven is a lot, but the threshold for that hotel would be 166,” he said.
In the last three years, there have also been four deaths due to overdoses reported at the hotel, he said.
Changing the ordinance is something that the city, including the police department, city council and mayor’s office, is working on. The call for service ratio of 2.0 is preventing the hotel from being considered in violation, Ison said.
“The ratio, in my opinion, is set too high,” he said. “… When that ordinance was made, that threshold was set way too high for us to be able to have any piece to be able to enforce it.”
Myers says the city is going to move forward with some sort of action to address the issues, but he is not sure of what that action may entail.
“I’m not ready to make that decision until we have a meeting about it,” Myers said.
An initial meeting between the city and the health department took place on Friday, and only after all of the information comes together will a decision be made by the city. This decision is expected in the coming days, he said.