Grand Forks residents pushed out of Ambassador Motel amid safety concerns, confusion

Grand Forks city staff on Friday deemed the Ambassador Motel unsafe for occupancy and gave residents there 48 hours to leave. Still, confusion seemed to reign there on Monday -- residents were

One of the signs posted on each apartment door at the Ambassador Motel in Grand Forks on Friday, April 9. Joe Bowen/Grand Forks Herald
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About 34 Grand Forks residents are scrambling to find a new place to live after city inspectors have deemed their apartments at the Ambassador Motel unsafe.

City staff believe the building “poses an imminent danger to the life, health, property and safety of the public or its occupants” and posted signs on each motel door declaring it off limits except to authorized personnel around 11:30 a.m. on Friday, April 9.

“It’s not an eviction,” Brandon Boespflug, the head of Grand Forks’ inspections department, told the Herald. “It’s essentially an evacuation.”

A letter Boespflug and other city administrators sent to Kenton McGregor, who owns the motel property, details a long list of alleged violations of city code: old or missing smoke detectors, gas cans and Styrofoam insulation in the basement, broken door locks, egress windows sealed shut, mold and more. Floor boards are rotting, water leaks from the ceiling in places, and broken glass litters some parts of the hallway.

Brandie Baker, who’s lived at the motel for a year and a half, advises visitors to spray insect repellent on their shoes as they leave so they don’t spread bedbugs. The showerhead in her bathroom is duct taped to the wall and water comes out in a trickle, Baker reported.


“There's barely any water pressure at all, so we use a kiddie pool,” she said.

Residents and the motel’s caretaker were unsure exactly when they’d need to be out of the building, or whether their possessions needed to be removed, too.

City administrators on Friday told McGregor that residents should move out immediately but established a 48-hour grace period of sorts, which made Monday morning the deadline to leave, according to Boespflug. The bright yellow “off limits” notices, according to Herald interviewees, came unexpectedly, and some residents weren’t sure where they’d stay on Monday night and beyond.

“Everybody was really mad because the notices don't say anything,” said Baker. “We can't find any help to move.”

A city employee handed out several business cards for Sue Shirek, the head of Northlands Rescue Mission. The mission has space for everyone at the motel to move there – 14 out of 149 spots were occupied as of Monday morning, according to Shirek – but it also doesn’t allow pets, which some Ambassador residents have, and it has an earned reputation for strictly prohibiting drugs and alcohol, which can deter potential residents.

Baker, who lives at the Ambassador with her adult daughter and 2-year-old son, managed to secure a room at a Grand Forks hotel through Thursday. She said she agrees the place needs to be shut down, but she doesn’t agree with the way it is being done. Tenants, she said, need more time to find housing, and then to pack and move. She’s unsure how the building passed previous inspections.

“All the problems in my room, and there's several, they were all here a year and a half ago, so how did it pass inspection the first time?” she asked.

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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