'Notorious' for drugs and prostitution, two Midlands hotels are transforming

WEST COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - If Airport Boulevard is Columbia's gateway, two hotels – just down Airport Boulevard from Columbia Metropolitan Airport – are part of Columbia's welcome mat. Both are situated near Airport Boulevard's interchange with I-26. Both of them – the Carolina Lodge and the Travelers Inn – have developed bad reputations over the years for prostitution, drugs, and more.

"We've had a whole gamut of calls from drug-related crimes, robberies, to sexual assaults to just about anything you think of, burglaries, auto break-ins, fights, stabbings, shooting," said Chief Kevin Cornett of the Springdale Police Department.

Chief Cornett has been trying to figure out what to do with them for years. Last year, in an interview with WIS, he said the town can't simply arrest its way out of the problem.

Now, change seems to be happening.

"It was a horror story," said Neal Patel, the new owner of the Carolina Lodge, as he strolled through one of the stripped-down rooms. "There was mold everywhere."

Soon, the Travelers Inn will become a Motel 6 and the Carolina Lodge will become a Red Roof Inn. Patel, who flips rundown hotels for a living, is about a month away from completely transforming the hotel he now owns. A similar entrepreneur, from Canada, bought the Travelers Inn and plans to do the same.

"As you can see, we've got new hardwood floors, new smoke detectors, new electrical sockets," Patel said, as he showed off rooms with fresh paint, flat-screen TVs, new vanities, tubs, and fixtures.

Patel and his workers are doing that to all 65 rooms in hopes of newer, nicer hotel will attract a better clientele.

"We're trying to clean it up as much as we can. The thing is, it's been notorious for prostitution and drugs for the past 15-20 years," Patel said. "I think the rates they were charging beforehand – they were extremely low. I think with our rates going up and our renovations in hand, we'll also have additional requirements in order to check in. Obviously, you must be 21 or older to check in. You must have a credit card on file, even if you're a cash-paying guest."

Patel is optimistic. Chief Cornett is too.

"I think anytime you have somebody willing come in and to change names and to put money into something, it's always a positive thing, and I hope that we'll go in a good direction," Cornett said.

According to Cornett, even as the two hotels renovate, the volume of incidents at the hotels has already gone down.

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