Local Update: One year later, East Ridge motel still not fully reopened

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Residents and officers stand outside the Budgetel on Nov. 16, 2022. After being told to leave the building, many residents of the Budgetel in East Ridge began packing their belongings.
Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Residents and officers stand outside the Budgetel on Nov. 16, 2022. After being told to leave the building, many residents of the Budgetel in East Ridge began packing their belongings.

Then: An East Ridge motel closed suddenly in November 2022 after being flagged as a nuisance by the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office, giving hundreds of people living there less than a day's notice to move out.

(READ MORE: 'I have no idea what to do': East Ridge motel residents react to possible closure)

District Attorney Coty Wamp filed a motion to shut down the Budgetel Inn as a public nuisance, citing the high volume of crime reported there.

The strain it put on first responders was unsustainable, Wamp said at the time. More than 1,400 emergency calls were made in three years from that address, East Ridge police said in a statement, most related to drug use, overdoses, assaults and disorderly conduct. Several businesses nearby also filed complaints with Wamp's office.

At least 354 people — 228 adults and 126 children — were displaced the morning of Nov. 16, 2022, and put up in other hotels, according to Mackenzie Kelly, interim director of the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition. In helping, the coalition prioritized residents with health conditions, children and those with no other place to go. Other Budgetel residents found their own housing with friends or relatives or lived out of their cars.

Many residents learned about the closure through their children's schools, and hotel staff said they learned about it from residents and members of the media.

On the evening before the Budgetel closed, residents gathered outside East Ridge City Hall after hearing rumors there would be a town hall meeting about it. There was no meeting, but residents talked to reporters outside and held signs saying things like "Save Budgetel" for passing drivers.

The Homeless Coalition started an emergency fund to pay for hotel rooms for displaced residents. Including money from the state, nonprofit agencies and $50,000 each from Chattanooga and Hamilton County, the fund raised more than $472,000, Kelly said by phone. All of that was used for hotel rooms, she said. At one point, the coalition was spending around $65,000 every other week to keep displaced residents housed, she said.

Now: After renovations, owners have reopened one of the Budgetel's four buildings, the one closest to the front office, with about 60 rooms. At a hearing Thursday, Wamp said there have been no major incidents reported there since it reopened about six months ago.

(READ MORE: Budgetel Inn nearly ready to reopen first of 4 buildings, six months after closure)

"I believe the state's goals were met, and the former residents of Budgetel are better off today because of it," Wamp said during Thursday's hearing.

If she had it to do again, Wamp told Criminal Court Judge Boyd Patterson, she might have done some things differently.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press followed up to ask for details.

"I'd have to think through the changes we will make next time," Wamp said in a response by email.

  photo  Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Hamilton County District Attorney Coty Wamp speaks to East Ridge Assistant Chief Josh Creel, as residents of the Budgetel sit in the gallery. The hearing for the Budgetel before Judge Boyd Patterson took place Dec. 5, 2022.


Of the 141 households displaced and put up in hotels by the homeless coalition, 69 were placed in permanent housing by Chattanooga's Office of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, Kelly said. Fifty-six households found other housing on their own, according to coalition officials.

Michele Pantages, a former Budgetel resident, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press in May that the coalition paid for a room for her family in another East Ridge motel after the Budgetel closed. By February, the family moved to a Motel 6 on Brainerd Road, where they paid their own fare after a week's worth of assistance from Metropolitan Ministries ran out. She and other former Budgetel residents could not be reached Thursday.

"I know there were a lot of issues, but a lot of good people lived there," Pantages said in May. "They didn't do anything wrong, but everybody had to suffer."

Residents significantly damaged some of the hotel's rooms before moving out, Chattanooga attorney Christopher Clem, who is representing Budgetel, said. The other three buildings still need to be renovated before opening.

"When you shut down and give everybody a 24-hour notice and move out several hundred people, quite frankly they ransacked the place," Clem said after the hearing. "The place was actually much nicer than that before the eviction."

Kelly also said more notice would have helped the homeless coalition and other agencies prepare and find housing for the residents before they were forced off the Budgetel property.

"There were some truths to it needing to close down, and that was never the issue," Kelly said by phone. "But our goal ultimately is to move folks to a place where they can live, a habitable place, and we need time to do that."

As part of the hotel's renovations, new fire alarms have been installed that don't automatically call 911 when they go off, which Clem said has significantly reduced the number of emergency calls from the motel. The alarms instead first notify the front desk, then first responders if they are triggered again.

Contact Ellen Gerst at [email protected] or 423-757-6319.

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  photo  Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Different signage from the District Attorney's Office is seen around the front of the Budgetel property. The Homeless Coalition gave an update on the needs of those displaced from the Budgetel on Dec. 7, 2022.

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