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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Holiday no more

Last month I drove 400 miles on I-95 from North Carolina to the Georgia/Florida line. I lost count of the derelict or decrepit motels along the way.

By 1970 Holiday Inn alone had opened over 1,000 hotels, most of which were along the then-new Interstate highway system and many of which faced a Ramada, HoJo, Best Western, Travelodge, Econo Lodge, Days Inn, Super 8, Knight, Red Roof, or Motel 6. All these hotels were built to the same pattern: rooms opening to an outdoor walkway, thin walls, one or two floors, an onsite restaurant and an outdoor swimming pool — a regrettable combination of cookie-cutter architecture and inexpensive construction.

Almost nobody wants to stay in a roadside hotel like that anymore; our tastes have moved upward to Hamptons, LaQuintas, and Fairfields. Problem is, the pre-1980 properties that the modern brands replaced linger on. Some have been wiped clean to their slab foundations, never redeveloped. Weeds and even small trees grow through cracks in the asphalt and concrete, surrounded by rusting chain-link fences. Others are operated as deep-discount hotels catering to transients by the week, lovers by the hour, and operators of meth labs. The remainder simply sit there, eyesores that instantiate the recent TV show Life After People. Nationwide the number of empty hotels surely numbers in the thousands.

When a commercial building is erected, I'd like to see a requirement for the owners to place an amount of money on deposit with a trust fund and sign a covenant that if the property sits idle continuously for ten years, the trust fund can take over the property, demolish every building, replant it with natural vegetation, and deed the property to a nearby town. I doubt such a policy will ever be implemented, but instead more cities could act to acquire and remediate these properties.