SANFORD — After years of battling crime and blight at The Prince Downtown motel, the City of Sanford, North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement (ALE), and neighboring residents and businesses worked together to close it down permanently.
The Prince Downtown has long been known as a nuisance to City officials, Sanford Police, and the community. However, a high legal threshold made closing the facility difficult for the city.
As individual complaints about The Prince Downtown stacked up, City staff and police worked behind the scenes with ALE on a strategy to protect the community from the nuisance activities — and partnered with neighboring property owners to do it.
The city gathered statements from neighbors and business owners affected by The Prince Downtown’s nuisance activities and used them to file a suit in June 2022 against the motel’s current and former owners.
On June 27, 2022, a North Carolina Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order against the current owners that prohibited any further nuisance and criminal activity on the property pending a trial.
“The temporary restraining order was an important first step in the legal process,” Mayor Rebecca Wyhof Salmon said about the city’s strategy. “With the order in place, the motel’s owners were given the opportunity to remedy the city’s concerns and the city had a tool to hold the owners accountable if they didn’t.”
Despite the order, The Prince Downtown’s current owners allowed criminal activity to continue. There were multiple drug transactions, overdoses, and — most tragically — loss of a life at the property.
In late April 2023, the court enforced the temporary restraining order, held the current owners in contempt, and ordered the motel to close immediately, giving two weeks for tenants to vacate the property.
The Court’s ruling did not require the city to help the motel’s tenants. However, due to the short timeline, Sanford officials worked with S3 Housing Connect to help relocate those affected by the closure.
“For many of the tenants, The Prince Downtown had been home for years and making a new start was going to be overwhelming,” Byron Buckels, Sanford City Council representative for Ward 4, said. “We wanted to do what we could to make the process a little less scary.”
Days after the court order was signed, H3 was on-site to share information and assess needs. The organization delivered a typed notice to all residents explaining the details of the motel closure and that the city and community were coming together to help them.
The agencies were able to quickly move most of the motel’s tenants into permanent housing. The team pitched in to help tenants pack and move, with the City providing moving boxes and supplies.
“The relocation process was one of the most challenging things I have ever done,” Cindy Hall, director of Street Medicine for H3, said. “We did our best to treat each person with compassion and dignity, and worked long hours searching for suitable homes.”
As a result, all but one of the long-term tenants from The Prince Downtown had access to a safe, decent and affordable place to live just 30 days after the motel’s closure.
At the end of June, a Superior Court judge ruled the mortgage holder could foreclose on the property — something that had not been allowed as the case was being examined. The judge also ruled the current owners had to permanently close The Prince Downtown, and must also demolish and remove the buildings from the property at their expense.
The court’s ruling achieved the city’s goals in filing the original lawsuit, which was to preserve the safety and well-being of all involved. Permanently shutting down the motel and removing the buildings protects tenants from living in unsafe conditions, and also protects neighboring residents and businesses from future nuisance and criminal activity.
“From the Sanford Police Department and ALE to the downtown property owners to our amazing nonprofit agencies,” Salmon said. “This was truly a team effort that couldn’t happen overnight.”