by Christina Wilkinson
I originally was planning to include the sale of the Grand Motor Inn as a short piece in the March 2017 [Juniper] Berry Bits Real Estate edition, but then the rumors of another homeless shelter opening there started swirling about. The most convincing account came through the grapevine from an employee of the hotel who said that the new owner had already broken the news of a conversion to the workers and that the City had visited the property in early February.
This required a bit of investigation. The Besen Group listed the property as being in contract and had marketed it thusly: “An operator can upgrade the property, rebrand with a flag it to bolster the occupancy and increase the average daily rate (ADR) substantially. The property also lends itself well to reposition for senior housing, assisted living or shelter, which meets an underserved need in the community.” This in itself sent up a red flag. I decided to try to contact the realtor to see what information, if any, they would offer about the buyer.
One of the realtors responded on Valentine’s Day and confirmed that the property had closed that day. I asked who the buyer was and he told me that he would reveal the information that Friday, but I didn’t actually get an answer until Tuesday, February 21st. The response he sent was, “Owner: Grand Hospitality LLC. Fully intend to renovate and remain as hotel. It may become a flag in the future.” (In real estate jargon, a flag is a name brand hotel that is part of a chain.)
I looked up who Grand Hospitality LLC was on the NYS Division of Corporations website. It didn’t give much information, but included a P.O. Box address. I forwarded the information to Assembly Member Brian Barnwell and copied COMET president Roe Daraio and JPCA President Robert Holden. I asked Brian if he could use the power of his office to find out from the state who registered the LLC and he agreed to do so. He also made some phone calls to the Grand Motor Inn, but the employees would not divulge who had bought the hotel. It was all very suspicious.
I awoke on the morning of February 22 with the idea to run a search on the P.O. Box that had been listed as the corporation’s mailing address. I came up with another LLC called “Emmons Hospitality” (note the similarity in name) with an address that traced back to a Best Western in Sheepshead Bay. I looked that property up in the City’s ACRIS and DOB systems and found the names of some of the partners. It appeared from the paperwork that they also own a small non-brand hotel in Brooklyn. I forwarded the information to Brian.
Just before lunchtime, we received an email from Brian informing us that he had gone over to the Grand Motor Inn and briefly met with Sailesh Gandhi, one of the partners, who denied they had plans for a shelter but initially indicated that the City had met with the partners to discuss the hotel. His answers were inconsistent and vague, which Brian felt was mainly due to a language barrier. He told Brian that he wanted to work with the community and asked Brian what he should do. Brian responded that if he cares about working with the community and being a part of it, then he should not run a homeless shelter. Brian’s email about the encounter ended with him saying that he would try to set up a meeting between the owners and community leaders within the next couple of days.
A few hours later, Bob Holden was preparing for work when Brian had called and told him that the owners were unavailable to meet on Thursday or Friday and wanted to meet right then at the hotel.
Brian and Bob then met with Sailesh and Vikrum Gandhi. Upon questioning, they both denied that they had met with the Department of Homeless Services but clarified that what Sailesh meant when he said the partners had “talked to the City” was that they sat with the Department of Buildings regarding renovations they were planning. They claimed they never had any intention of converting the hotel into a shelter and want to work with the community. Bob and Brian explained the Holiday Inn Express situation and the partners said they knew who Harshad Patel (the owner of the HIE) was, but stressed that they were not involved with him in any way. The City has hired brokers to find more hotel rooms in which to stash the homeless, and the partners promised to inform the community if they are in any way approached by them. They seemed sincere, but they also insisted that they were new to the hotel business, which doesn’t appear to be the case, since I found their names listed on mortgage records for other hotels.
For the time being, we are cautiously optimistic that they plan to renovate the place and enter into a franchise agreement with a hotel chain, which should end its use as a hot sheets motel. We’d like to thank Brian Barnwell for his proactive leadership, which is a refreshing change. One thing is for sure: We’ll all be keeping an eye on the GMI.