Paul Wilson: No surrender yet at Hamilton's most infamous hotel

The City Motor Hotel's reputation is as rough as they come and council plans to knock it down. The 94-year-old owner wants to see the cash first, and his guests say they like the place just fine.
Amy Feltmate, left, and Elyse Exner say the City Motor Hotel is a good place to live, but Hamilton council has voted to expropriate and knock it down. (Paul Wilson/CBC)

Ted Dabrowski, 94, grabs me by the shirt collar, right here in the parking lot of the City Motor Hotel.

"This isn't Russia," he says. "If somebody's got something, we don't say, 'Here, I'll give you a dollar for it. And if you don't like it, I'll give you a punch in the mouth.'"

Point made, Ted lets me go.

He's not mad at me. He's mad at the city. This spring, city councillors voted to expropriate the hotel. They say it's an east-end blight, home to prostitution, drugs and gun play. The plan is to knock the place down and turn it into affordable housing, shops and a transit hub. The city figures this property is worth $1 million.

Fat offer from the fax

Ted Dabrowski may be 94, but he still talks tough on a price for his hotel. (Paul Wilson/CBC)

Way off, says Ted. And suddenly, from his fax machine, comes an offer for $2.6 million from someone named Jason Leung, with a $200,000 deposit if that offer is accepted by June 26.

It's murky as to just who owns this 98-room 50-year-old hotel, but Ted's been the guy on site for years now. He says he sold it a few years ago, held the mortgage, then never got paid.

So it's still Ted at the front desk, Ted answering the phone, Ted getting angry.

'It doesn't matter if I'm 120. The law is the law.'—Ted Dabrowski

At his age, should he not just step back a little, try to find a little peace in life while there's still time? No, he wants his money. "It doesn't matter if I'm 120. The law is the law."

Once was a gem

The City Motor, at the Queenston traffic circle, started out as a gem, built by five Ukrainian guys who did everything right.

They erected a Miami-style hotel in a north-of-the-border factory town. All turquoise, yellow and red, with a coffee shop and dining lounge and a kidney-shaped pool in the courtyard.

But the last dive there would have been long, long ago. The City Motor's reputation could sink no lower, and councillor Sam Merulla vows to rid his ward of this scourge.

Outside Room 43, seeking relief from the heatwave with some shade and an Old Milwaukee, there's a guy who says it's not so bad here. His name is David, though some may know him as Brad. He's lived at the hotel for five years.

This is Cheers

It's been a long time since the last dive at the east-end motel.

He likes his neighbours. "This is the 'Cheers' of Hamilton," he says, "where everybody knows your name."

A room here is about $200 a week. You could rent an apartment for less than that. But at the City Motor (cash only, please) there's no demand for first and last month's rent — and that room comes with phone, cable, heat, water and sheets and towels.

The parking lot looks empty, but about 20 rooms are rented out right now on a weekly basis. That includes a few families with kids.

Elyse Exner has been here since September. Her friend Amy Feltmate, who comes from Nova Scotia, is with her here today. They met years ago at the City. Elyse says she's an out-of-work machine operator.

Another friend comes by. Her name's Lynne and though it's not quite noon, she's been drinking hard. She thinks I'm here with a summons, then lunges for my cell phone.

Elyse pulls her back. It's better, she says, that Lynne is here at the City then out there on the street. "I know it sounds stupid, but we've got a real little community here. It's a comfortable place."

You can read more CBC Hamilton stories by Paul Wilson here.