|By Tom Troy, The Blade, Toledo,
OhioMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 10, 2007 - Using a critical report written by a secret shopper hired by the city, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner yesterday cited the Hotel Seagate, 141 North Summit St., as a "public nuisance," and gave its owners 72 hours to clean up and repair the premises.
Hotel General Manager Shannon Fielder took the order and promised to respond immediately, but denied that the hotel was dirty.
Mr. Finkbeiner said the report from anonymous visitors who spent the night of April 20-21 at the hotel validated the complaints he has received.
The mayor said guests have told him "how unkempt and disgusting this building is."
"We have been trying to get the large and small hotels to raise their standards. I don't want our city to be seen as an unclean city," Mr. Finkbeiner said. If the Seagate or other hotels don't cooperate, "we're going to close them down," he said.
Yesterday, the mayor walked in and personally delivered the "determination of a public nui-sance" order to Ms. Fielder and then held a news conference.
However, city Chief Building Official Chris Young said the 72-hour time period would be extended if the manager demonstrates cooperation, such as by showing signed contracts.
Ms. Fielder said the hotel gets complaints because guests arrive expecting a higher level of luxury than is available in the $59-a-night hotel.
"We do get complaints. They think we're dirty, but we're not. We're very clean. We're just old and outdated," Ms. Fielder said.
She turned the tables on Mr. Finkbeiner, saying her guests complain about the lack of activity in Toledo's downtown.
"They constantly complain of nowhere to shop, nowhere to walk. They walk out front of our hotel and see Fort Industry Square, which is 90 percent empty. We defend the city constantly," Ms. Fielder said.
She said Mr. Finkbeiner has been in contact with the hotel since two weeks after he took office in 2006.
She questioned what exactly was supposed to be repaired. The one-page order from Mr. Young made general criticisms that the structure is in disrepair, unsanitary, "contains filth and contamination," and has inoperable plumbing facilities.
Mr. Young said the specifics are in the secret shopper's report, a six-page document that detailed the shopper's experiences and observations, beginning with the initial phone call to make reservations and ending with the checkout.
The report, conducted by the firm IntelliShop LLC of Perrysburg, portrayed a hotel with indifferent staff, nonfunctional plumbing and elevators, and dirty bedsheets.
Virtually all the amenities had some shortcoming, including broken TV remote and noisy air conditioner.
"The hotel is old, run down, damaged, and not the cleanest. The hospitality was bad. The people we encountered were not focused on giving us a great experience and the guest room was not up to standard," the secret shopper wrote.
The evaluation gave the hotel a 28 percent overall score, or satisfactory performance on 18 of 65 items.
Ms. Fielder said exterior concrete on the building is undergoing some renovation.
James Donnelly, president and chief executive officer of the adjacent SeaGate Centre, said he has received many complaints focusing on dirty and unhygienic rooms, unchanged beds, and elevators that don't work.
"No one wants to stay there once they get there," Mr. Donnelly said. He said the convention center has posted a disclaimer declaring there is no relationship between the convention center and the hotel.
He approved the use of secret shoppers, "as long as they're objective."
The hotel was sold at a sheriff's sale to the mortgage holder, Republic National Bank of Chicago, in February, 2006. It is for sale again, Ms. Fielder said.
The 19-story hotel was built in 1970 as a Holiday Inn, but has undergone numerous name and ownership changes.
Brian Schwartz, the mayor's spokesman, said the city spent $2,250 to send secret shoppers to visit four hotels -- the Toledo Riverfront Hotel (formerly the Wyndham Hotel), the Park Inn Hotel, Hotel Seagate, and the Clarion Hotel Westgate.
Mr. Schwartz said the money came out of the Department of Neighborhoods budget and because it was under $10,000, did not require City Council approval.
The mayor said the secret shoppers have visited only two of the downtown hotels so far, and the Hotel Seagate report is the only one complete.
The Park Inn, 105 North Summit, also apparently was informed of some problems, although there were no orders issued.
A letter from hotel General Manager Michael Sapara dated May 4 apologized "for not keeping up with the high standards set by the City of Toledo," and promised to take care of the windows, exterior flower beds, and cigarette butts on the street.
Mr. Finkbeiner has been a persistent critic of the city's hotels.
In 1997, he yelled at employees of the Radisson Hotel, now the Park Inn, over what he saw as a debris-filled lobby, and then issued a strongly worded letter.
Contact Tom Troy at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6058.
Copyright (c) 2007, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio
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