Port LaBelle Motel Gets Consumer and State Complaints
LABELLE, FL. -- Catering to weekend bikers and construction workers, the Port LaBelle Inn has been the object of numerous Florida Division of Hotel and Restaurant warnings and critical safety inspection failures as well as consumer complaints over the last nine months. The Maine's Best Seafood restaurant (see separate story)
inside the motel has also been on the state' s warning list for "critical food safety violations" after months of warnings from state restaurant inspectors. Recent consumer reviews of the 50-unit motel have not been glowing, citing lack of night staff, complaints of false advertising, and generally poor conditions of its rooms.
The owner of the hotel, Mike Lafferty and his company Lafferty Development, Inc. is reportedly partnering with Cabrera Capital to get 31 acres of the property developed for high density housing and commercial use. Laffterty is following the lead of other Hendry county developers who have submitted more the 30 "Planned Unit Development" proposals to the county planning and zoning department. The idea is to get county permission for high density land zoning and then either build homes and condos or sell off the now much more valuable land to speculators or other developers.
Lafferty, a Phoeniz, Arizona electrical contractor who recently sold his company, has plans to change the former Port LaBelle Golf Course acreage, now zoned for recreational use, to sites for 310 multi-family units, while managing the operation from his second home in Naples, Fl. He purchased the golf course property including the hotel from a LaBelle owner for $4,000,000 in November, 2005, with the previous owner holding a large mortgage for Lafferty. Since the hotel most likely cannot pay off the four million dollar purchase investment by itself, it would appear Lafferty's strategy is to sell off the adjoining land if it can be rezoned for housing development, theoretically making a huge multi-million dollar profit after a few years of holding the property.
Complaints, Complaints, Complaints
The often poorly maintained hotel is having its share of problems, plagued with low occupancy, customer complaints, and state hotel inspector citations for safety and consumer violations. Although the hotel front exterior and swimming pool seem to be attractively maintained, the tennis courts and the majority of the grounds behind the hotel are overgrown with three foot high weeds, and truck trails where employees make short cuts to State Road 80. Vehicles are most always parking in the emergency "fire lanes" at the hotel entrance driveway, say neighbors.
Inspectors from the division of hotels and restaurants has cited the restaurant and the hotel for repeated violations of state laws and rules after repeated visits. In October 2006 a warning was issued to the hotel for five "critical" violations and four non-critical ones. A fire extinguisher tag was found that showed an expiration 14 months earlier as one of the fire safety critical violations cited.
Other safety device problems included a stand pipe inspection that expired over three years earlier. The stand pipe system is a critical set of water pipes for fire fighting. The inspector found no state required smoke detector available in any room for the hearing impaired, and the front desk clerk had no knowledge of where the smoke detector was supposed to be. The inspector also noted that there was no required certificate for any balcony safety inspection.
Among the non-critical items citid by inspectors were mold found in a bathroom wall and shower, three rooms with no posted rates, two rooms with no posted phone surcharge notice, and the hotel did not have a copy available of the Florida Statute hotel and motel rules.
Port LaBelle Inn Management Ignores State Inspector And Consumer Complaints?
On June 29, 2007 and inspector came back for reinspection and still found the un-certified standpipe situation "critical", along with the expired fire extinguishers, fire alarm system, and missing hearing impaired smoke detector. The missing room rate notices were also now rated "critical" violations. The inspector gave the hotel another "warning" notice citing the four violations.
Complaints have also been registered by guests and motel neighbors as well. At TripAdvisor.Com, an online hotel rating web site, all four ratings by guests rated the Port LaBelle Inn poorly.
A June 14, 2007 review from a Tampa visitor said, "I travel for my job and have stayed at the Port LaBelle Inn a total of 17 nights over the last 3 years...it's terrible. The stories I have! Doors that didn't lock, toilets that overflowed, people that have been locked out of the hotel after 10 PM, getting stuck in the elevator, no blankets, no pillowcases (!), the list goes on and on. On top of all that, they charge rates that rival what you'd pay at a decent place in a more populated area. Take my advice- drive to Clewiston (30 miles east) and stay at the Holiday Inn Express, or drive to I-75 (20 miles west) and stay at the Comfort Inn."
A California guest review on May 22, 2007 said, "My wife, daughter and I stayed in the Port LaBelle Inn last year while interviewing for a job in LaBelle. The man who was interviewing us chose our room specially and chose the best one in the hotel, so our room was clean and newly remodeled. He did, however, tell us that it was one of two rooms remodeled and that he had sent others he interviewed to Ft. Myers to stay in a hotel because the other rooms were SO bad.
"The foyer and lounge areas were decorated nicely, but overall the place was depressing... Also, beware, after about 10 P.M., there is NO ONE on site...at least at the time we were there! You are alone with the other guests on the property."
An April 7, 2007 reviewer says flatly: "Warning...this is terrible and misleading place"
Another recent review says: "After doing many searches online for an afordable but clean place to stay while visiting Ft. Myers, I came across the Port La Belle Inn website. What appeared to be a newly renovated, and beautifully decorated Inn, in reality was the worst place I have ever stayed. The front desk clerk was friendly but laughed about how misleading the website was, and continued to tell me that the Inn has changed management several times in the past year.
"I felt like I was entering into a scene to a horror film. The rooms are tiny as well as the bathrooms. 2 out of 3 lamps had burnt out bulbs, our door to the adjoining room was broken (we had to secure the door with a chair) and I could probably go on to tell you how bad it was for the next 20 minutes...but please beware of their misleading website...and one more thing, it's in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by swamp lands and alligator ponds. Also, no staff at night, so your on your own."
Nearby Port LaBelle home owners are also annoyed and say Harley motorcycle riders from dealer-sponsored clubs in Palm Beach and Ft. Myers come and go on Saturday and Sundays, loudly proclaiming their presence on LaBelle roads traveling to local restaurants including Maine's Best at the Port LaBelle Inn. Bikers staying over night, neighbors say, often wake residents at the nearby townhouse and condo community early mornings with their loud exhausts revving up for the ride back to Palm Beach or Lee county.
The Hendry Commissioners will include on the July 24 meeting agenda the Port LaBelle golf course land re-zoning proposal at Commission Chambers in LaBelle.