Hollywood to tackle crime on Federal Highway

Ladies of the evening roam Federal Highway morning, noon and night.

Vagrants sleep here. And dope is sold.

The bad reputation linked to Hollywood's stretch of Federal Highway frustrates city leaders, who have grander plans for the key commercial corridor.

Hollywood's cops have been trying for years to fix Federal Highway, battling against prostitutes, vagrants, drug dealers and the grimy motels many of them call home, even if just for an hour. But all the stings and crackdowns have failed to keep crime at bay.

Federal Highway is still the perfect place to play "Spot the Prostitute," says Hollywood Commissioner Peter Hernandez.

"It seems to be the culture, whenever someone is looking for a prostitute, they go to Federal Highway," lamented Hernandez. "We also have problems with people loitering. It never ends."

Some blame the motels clustered along the entire 2.5-mile stretch of Federal Highway in Hollywood.

But seizing the motel properties through eminent domain could lead to costly legal battles the city might not win, officials say.

Hollywood Mayor Peter Bober says there's another way: Give the motel owners 15 years to change their type of business — or vacate the property.

"The motels detract from the city of Hollywood," Bober said during a recent commission meeting where he pitched the idea of giving the motels a 15-year amortization deadline. "That's not the future we want."

In 2012 alone, police went to one motel 191 times, mainly responding to reports of prostitution, drugs and other disturbances. Another motel just blocks away had 61 calls for service.

"We've had reports of people selling drugs out of the windows," Hernandez said.

He hopes a new program that will have cops patrolling the road on bicycles will help cut down on crime.

The motels along Federal were not always hot spots for prostitution and drugs. During their heydays, the "mom and pop" motels were safe stopovers for weary motorists. Things began changing in the 1970s with the proliferation of major hotel chains along interstate highways.

To stay in business, many motels turned to a new clientele to stay in business, sometimes renting rooms by the hour.

In 1997, Hollywood Sgt. Jim Weatherford listed vagrancy and prostitution as the biggest problems along Federal Highway.

Not much has changed in the past 16 years, said Sgt. Gene Cochenour, a spokesman for the department.

"Not all of the motels along Federal Highway are associated with the crime problem," Cochenour said. "There are a few areas that contain motels whose standards have attracted a criminal element. We are working hard to address these issues."

Hollywood isn't the only city working to change the tawdry reputation of Federal Highway.

Neighboring Dania Beach has made it a top priority.