Nearly two weeks after businessman Richard Lipsey convened a meeting of key stakeholders to discuss the growing problem with panhandling and trash on Rieger Road, near the busy commercial intersection of Siegen Lane and Interstate 10, Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s office is arranging a meeting with Lipsey and the owners of several nearby hotels that Lipsey and other business owners believe are contributing to the problem.
The meeting is tentatively scheduled for late September, according to Broome’s assistant chief administrative officer, Veneeth Iyengar, who helped Lipsey get in touch with the owners of the Super 8, Motel 6, Econo Lodge and Trident Inn.
Lipsey, who initially said he wanted to contact the owners in order to offer to buy their properties and tear them down, now says he wants first to meet with them, discuss the problem and try to find a solution.
“If we can get them to clean up the area, get the trash out and get the people that are creating the problem out of there then I’m fine with the hotels,” he says. “If not, then we will make every effort at the city level to condemn them.”
According to parish property tax records and the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office, the Super 8 is owned by an LLC registered to Hasmukh Patel; the Econolodge and Motel 6 are owned by entities registered to Rajesh Patel; and, the Trident Inn is owned by a Jacksonville, Florida-based entity.
Efforts to reach the owners were unsuccessful.
Though business owners in the Rieger Road area have only anecdotal evidence of questionable activity at the hotels, the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office has data to back up those assertions.
On Sept. 10, EBRSO narcotics officers arrested a 23-year-old man at the Super 8, where they found handguns, drugs, a digital scale and baggies.
In recent weeks, they also have made multiple drugs and weapons arrests of suspects who were at or near the motels, as well as arrests of two homicide suspects who allegedly provided drugs to a man who fatally overdosed at one of the motels, says EBRSO spokesperson Casey Rayborn Hicks.
The EBRSO is averaging about 40 arrests per month in the Siegen Lane area for such crimes as possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia and weapons.
They’ve also stepped up outreach efforts to organizations that serve the homeless and those with behavioral health issues—populations that overlap with panhandlers and substance abusers.
If those efforts don’t work, the city-parish could potentially approach the problem hotels from a different perspective—utilizing a state abatement of nuisance law. East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore recently won a case in 19th Judicial District Court against a Tigerland apartment complex owner, whose property was declared a nuisance after several high-profile crimes were committed there.
But Moore says the legal process is lengthy and difficult.
“Besides, you don’t want to go around closing down businesses,” he says, which is the ultimate recourse under the law. “Many of these people are poor and need help, even the people wrapped up in the illegal activity. It’s a complex problem. There are no easy answers.”