After over a month of meetings, hearings, protests and marches, Maspeth residents learned late Thursday that the owner of the Holiday Inn Express on 55th Road confirmed that he will not be converting his facility into a homeless shelter for adult families.
The news came only a day after it was announced that the shelter would not open on the original date given of Oct. 1.
Hotel owner Harshad Patel told WPIX-TV that he decided to kill the shelter plan because he did not want to go against the community.
In a letter dated Sept. 8 to Tony Nunziato, chair of the Maspeth Middle Village Task Force, the general manager of the Holiday Inn Express confirmed that Patel will not be converting it into a shelter.
“We will continue running it as a hotel, as we always have,” the letter reads. “We plead with the community to stop this protest. It has hurt our business drastically over the last few weeks.”
QNS has reached out to Patel for comment and confirmation, and is awaiting a reply.
Although this may seem like a victory for the protesters, they are not stopping their fight.
“I hope we can trust him. We are going to subtly celebrate, but we don’t know if he’s telling us the truth given his track record with how he does business,” said Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA). “That’s why I’m cautious. We won’t celebrate fully until we hear something official from [the Department of Homeless Services].”
DHS has not released an official statement regarding the plans for the Holiday Inn, but are still negotiating, a source close to the situation said.
With no official word from the city about the hotel no longer being considered for a homeless shelter, the protesters continued to gather outside of the establishment on Friday, this time with a special guest.
Curtis Sliwa, who announced that he will be running against Melinda Katz for the Borough Presidency in 2017, was on hand at the Holiday Inn to lend the protesters his support. Sliwa also hosts a talk show on WABC-AM and founder of the Guardian Angels, an international volunteer patrol organization.
After several failed attempts at scheduling a meeting with Patel, Holden and the community were planning on bringing the protest to the hotel owner’s front door. They were planning to rally in front of Patel’s home, Holden said. They delivered flowers to his house with a note saying that if he did not want to meet with Maspeth, Maspeth would come out to him.
It was then that Holden learned of Patel’s plan to kill the shelter deal.
“I think it shows that nothing is a done deal, this how the Juniper Park Civic operates. I think we give hope to every small community that you can fight City Hall, you can fend them off and you can win,” Holden said. “For Maspeth to [protest] every night, I was so encouraged. They were the best people in Maspeth, they all pulled together and made a lot of noise. Maspeth can be a model that a small community can come together to fight this.”
Upon hearing the news, City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley tweeted at the Holiday Inn Express questioning whether this news was legitimate.
“Hotels citywide rent rooms to DHS – does this commitment to stay a hotel include all of your rooms?” she asked.
“Hotels” citywide rent rooms to DHS – does this commitment to stay a hotel include all of your rooms? https://t.co/MW5sigetKL
— Elizabeth Crowley (@ElizCrowleyNYC) September 9, 2016
QNS reached out to Crowley’s office is awaiting a response.
Borough President Melinda Katz has now gotten involved in making sure that a shelter does not open at this site. In a letter dated Sept. 9, Katz wrote to Mayor Bill de Blasio requesting that DHS rescind the plan to turn the hotel into a homeless shelter.
“It should be clear from the overwhelming community opposition at the town hall meeting and at the Community Board 5 hearing last week, coupled with the revelation in the press that the landlord is now concerned that this is the wrong location, that the siting should be withdrawn by the Administration,” Katz wrote.
In the letter she points out that Queens has at least 17 hotels that have been used as shelters, and says that housing the homeless in hotels is not the right approach to the city’s homeless crisis.