The Morgan Motel once provided weary travelers on their way to Mount Rainier a place to stay. According to many neighbors, the motel at 7031 Pacific Ave. degenerated over the years into a well-known hub of crime, drug use and prostitution.
In December, the Morgan’s business license was suspended, and it was forced to close. It hasn’t been open since.
Residents say that’s a very good thing. Seediness has gone down, and safety has gone up.
But with the looming prospect that the Morgan might soon return to business, folks in the neighborhood are getting antsy. In recent days, more than 1,500 people have signed an online petition demanding the Morgan stay shuttered.
Many are asking why the city would even consider allowing the Morgan to reopen.
They’re not wrong to ask. Over the years, the property has been home to no shortage of nefarious activity.
Recent history provides a long list of low points.
In March 2013, 42-year-old Donald Phily was gunned down in Room 8 of the Morgan. Prosecutors described the murder as a robbery gone wrong.
In March 2017, a man angered after two women staying at the Morgan apparently denied him sex drove his pickup truck into the motel. Then, he threw a large rock at one woman's head.
Tacoma Police investigated illegal drug activity at the Morgan Motel in October 2016, and January, March and May 2017. Ultimately two arrests were made as a result of the May 2017 investigation.
That same month, the Morgan was temporarily closed, and The News Tribune reported that police had received 171 calls for service related to criminal activity at the motel since January 2016.
Finally, in December, the Morgan had its business license suspended — yet again — this time after high levels of methamphetamine contamination were found at the motel.
As of today, that’s where things stand.
But, in recent months, a cleanup of the property has been undertaken.
Tacoma Pierce County Health Department spokeswoman Edie Jeffers said the agency is waiting for lab results showing it has successfully mitigated the methamphetamine contamination. When the health department receives and reviews those results, it could deem the property fit for use, Jeffers said.
It then will be up to the city to reinstate the Morgan’s suspended business license. Danielle Larson, the City of Tacoma’s Tax and License manager, said she expects that to happen once the health department gives the city the go-ahead. While the department will continue to monitor the property to ensure it’s complying with Tacoma municipal code, there’s very little the city can do to prevent the hotel from reopening as long as the cleanup is deemed successful, she said.
That is what scares residents.
According to Richard Gardner, a retired military officer who’s lived in the neighborhood 12 years, life has improved dramatically since the Morgan’s business license was suspended.
“It is basically blight and an attractor for bad elements. I would never have anyone in my family stay in the place,” said Gardner, 56. “We’ve definitely seen an improvement in the area since it closed.”
“Oh my gosh! We couldn’t believe how much less crime we had in our area,” added 59-year-old Paul Chromey, a retired truck driver and Safe Streets volunteer who lives blocks away from the Morgan.
Both Gardner and Cromey said they don’t see the Morgan’s ownership changing the way it does business and were blunt when asked what an ideal outcome might look like.
“Most people do not like the place, is a nice way of putting it,” Gardner said. “I’d like to see the whole thing razed and something else go in there.”
Multiple attempts to reach the Morgan’s owner were unsuccessful.
It’s not just concerned residents sounding the alarm. New District 5 Councilman Chris Beale has taken up the cause just like his predecessor Joe Lonergan did.
Beale said this week that he’s hoping to find “creative solution” to dealing with the Morgan instead of just reinstating the motel’s business license and waiting for problems to return.
He wants to “challenge the owners” to “be good actors,” he said.
“We really need to go through the process to make sure we’re turning the screw on the Morgan and scrutinizing the application as much as possible,” Beale said.
The new councilman said he also hopes to explore a number of other remedies — including possible legislative fixes and potential redevelopment ideas that would better serve the neighborhood.
“My hope is that the city will stand up to the Morgan and the issues that we know have been pretty endemic to how it has operated over the years,” Beale said. “That’s what’s being asked of me from my constituents.
“The neighborhood hasn’t been safer in a number of years. We want to sustain these gains.”
All things considered, it sure doesn’t seem like too much to ask.