BELEN — After being shut down for more than five months for numerous fire code violations, the Super 8 Hotel in Belen has reopened its doors.
The Belen Fire Department closed the Belen establishment on Aug. 11, 2021, after the city’s fire marshal cited the property for nearly 100 fire code violations.
At the time, Belen Fire Marshal Kenneth Vance said violations ranged from missing or broken outlet covers throughout the building to exposed wires and the sprinkler and fire alarms systems hadn’t been tested in more than two years.
He also said the building’s fire extinguishers were out of service and the majority of smoke detectors were missing, damaged or disabled, making fire protection nearly nonexistent in the hotel. The fire doors were also damaged and altered.
“They’ve been working really hard on getting their code violations taken care of — there was a lot,” Vance said last week. “They worked very diligently on getting it all fixed.”
The final inspection occurred at the end of January, and the Super 8 Hotel reopened on Tuesday, Jan. 25.
“All the fire code violations have been taken care of and, as long as they keep it maintained, they shouldn’t have an issue,” Vance said.
The fire marshal said he will be going by for annual inspections, but might just “pop in” in about six months to see how the hotel doing.
“They were very cooperative, and I understand the frustration on their end,” Vance said of the hotel owners. “I appreciate their diligence.”
The owners of the hotel racked up nearly $7,000 in fire code violation fines, which Vance said they paid in full prior to the final inspection.
Rahul Modi, the son of one of the owners of the Super 8 Hotel, Bobby Modi, has been the manager of the local hotel on and off for about a year. He admits the hotel was in “pretty poor” condition, saying they’ve worked hard over the last five months to make sure the property is safe for customers and the community.
“I’d like to apologize on behalf of the staff and the owners that we had such a negative impact on the community,” Modi said. “We want to help make this city a better place to be.”
Modi said the majority of the issues happened in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying some of the managers weren’t taking care of the property, and they couldn’t find good management or staff due to labor shortages and people getting sick.
“My father, himself, has lung conditions and he wasn’t able to come out here himself because he was getting scared of COVID,” Modi said. “The old manager took advantage of that situation and he let the property get very bad. He left the initial bad taste in the community’s mouth, including the chief of police and the fire department.”
“(COVID) really impacted the tourism industry. We were getting no tourists, and the only choice the old manager had was to rent to locals,” Modi said of the 42-room hotel. “That was our only source of revenue, and that’s not only true for this hotel.”
Going forward, the Super 8 Hotel will no longer rent to locals, unless it is an emergency.
“Unless they’re with a company, in construction … if we don’t know them, we won’t rent to them, unless its an emergency situation,” he said. “At the same time, we want to be there for the community. When we had the big snow storm, there were a few people that were really cold and we decided to help them out.”
Modi said renting to locals will be on a case-by-case basis, but for the most part, they will turn away local customers.
“Before, we were taking chances, but we can’t afford to take those chances anymore,” he said. “We’re trying to be a better hotel. We don’t want to disrupt the community; we don’t want to be something that looks poorly in Belen.”
Belen Police Chief James Harris said when the hotel was shut down that the property was a “nuisance,” and his officers had responded to multiple calls of drug overdoses, prostitution and “other nefarious activities” going on.
“It was the old manager who was letting all that happen,” Modi said of the prior criminal activity. “We had a lot less illegal activity when we were here opposed to when the old manager was here. I think we didn’t do as well as a job that we thought we were, and that’s why this happened.”
Harris said last week he put the owners on notice that criminal activity will not be tolerated.
“If it begins again, we will start working on deeming it a nuisance property and have it shut down,” Harris said. “We’ve got to give them an opportunity. They spent (nearly) $7,000 in fines and all the money they spent to fix it up. It’s in their best interest that they start to keep it a respectable business. I don’t want to shut any business down because any business is good as long as it’s a respectable business.”
Prior to the pandemic, Modi said renting to locals made up 20-30 percent of the hotel’s revenue, but during it, it was more like 60 percent.
In the five months the hotel was closed, Modi said the owners lost between $300,000 to $350,000 in revenue, and spent $125,000 in repairing the property.
“It was poor timing for us to get shut down because we had just recovered financially from the pandemic, and this was just another financial blow for us,” he said. “I understand it was our fault, but at the same time, there were a lot of things we couldn’t control.”
Some of the improvements the owners made at the Super 8 Hotel included replacing all the doors and frames in the building, which Modi said 90 percent had dents, holes or other damage.
They also installed RFID key-card locks, meaning a customer can place the card on or near the reader, which identifies the signal as belonging to an authorized user, and the door unlocks.
The owners replaced the carpets that “were really bad,” and will eventually re-carpet the entire property after “getting a little more revenue in the door.”
“We washed all of the carpets and we replaced the worst,” Modi said. “We also brought in transition strips between the walls and carpet.”
The Super 8 Hotel has also changed to a non-smoking property. Prior to being shut down, they allowed smoking upstairs only.
“We’re doing our best now because the last five months have been very difficult for us,” he said. “Finding the right contractors and employees to help come fix this place up was a battle on its own, not to mention the material shortages. Ordering doors and parts would normally take two to three weeks, and we had to wait two to three months.”
Since reopening, Modi said they now have a better staff, who they’re also paying better.
“We’re trying to find people who we trust,” he said. “I’m trying to do the majority of the work. Since I understand the business, I want to do as much as I can … and I’m trying to make sure the business turns around. I’m here most of the time.”
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.