Donald A. Promnitz" />

The Welcome Inn in Fresno is one of four hotel properties on Parkway Drive purchased and renovated as part of Project HomeKey. Photo by Donald A. Promnitz

published on January 25, 2021 - 1:25 PM
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Hotel broker Roger Story is no stranger to the seedy history of “Motel Drive” — the pejorative for a section of Parkway Drive in Central Fresno.

At one point, Story owned the Welcome Inn and the Best Budget Inn (now the Travel Inn), two of the 13 separate properties between Olive and Belmont avenues. By then, the Motel Drive/Parkway area had built up a reputation for drug dealing and prostitution, and while Story says he did everything he could to make sure he was running a reputable business, old habits were hard to break in the rest of the area.

“I didn’t cater to that; some people did,” Story said of the motels. “But some of those guys out there try to run a good business and other don’t care. It’s cash — cash business.”

Now things seem to be changing for the area and Story may get to play a part in reforming infamous motels — not as an owner, but as a broker.

Last month, escrow was closed on four of these locations: Parkside Inn, Motel 99, Day’s Inn and Welcome Inn. According to Story, who brokered the sales as president for Motel Hotel Specialists, Inc., the purchases were made by the Fresno Housing Authority for more than $20 million, averaging between $45,000 and $55,000 per room.

It all comes as part Project HomeKey, a state-funded effort to rehabilitate old hotels, motels and vacant apartment buildings, turning them into housing for those experiencing homelessness — especially those impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

This also comes off the heels of a 2019 resolution led by Fresno City Councilmember Miguel Arias to clean up the long-problematic area that rests in his district. This resolution brought an ultimatum to the owners — giving them option to clean up or sell off, with the latter being the end result.

According to Preston Prince, CEO and executive director for the Fresno Housing Authority, it’s been an encouraging process to watch — the combination of state funding and city reforms have created a perfect storm to improve the Parkway area.

“This is really one of the most inspiring and aspirational efforts that I’ve ever been part of and it has a genesis that is many years ago,” Prince said. “The HomeKey funding from the state has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but this has been an idea that the community has been talking about for years.”

It’s also been a point of optimism for Story, who sees it as a second chance to fix something that’s bothered him for decades.

“That’s a good feeling to see it transition into good housing and for good kids,” Story said. “

However, some work has to be done on the motels before they can start taking in guests. Right now, Prince says the Housing Authority is in the process of doing some necessary renovations and restorations to make sure the buildings are ready. For example, the roof was replaced at one property, while parking lots and bathrooms are also being redone and made more accessible and the pools are being done away with.

Units are also being combined and new furniture, beds, microwaves, refrigerators and flooring are being added.

It was enough to impress Arias, who took a recent visit to motel drive to see the progress being made firsthand. According to him, it was a night and day difference.

“I was completely flabbergasted by the speed and the quality of renovations that the Housing Authority has created,” Arias said. “In a three-week period, they replaced flooring, new sheet rock, lighting fixtures — electrical has been improved — and so they’ve really turned around these units.”

Prince expects to see the motels at a 50% occupancy by the end of March. Arias says those tenants previously living at the motels who had to be relocated will be the first in line during the application process.

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