County workers begin fencing off the Star Motel, families still living inside

Orlando, Florida, just minutes from Disney World:

Natina Conley says she’s one of the business owners of the Star Motel.She says she started a partnership with the old owner in December in hopes of restoring the rundown property and turning it into a transitional living program called the Rising Star.“I tried to help this place the best I could, I came in and put $40,000 of my own money into it. I mean, that was the beginning, I’m up to about $250,000 of my own money into this at this point because of the simple fact I can’t turn revenue over. Somebody’s gotta pay for it and if I allow the county to pay for it, they’ll just bulldoze this building when we can house 250 families in a transitional living program I’m putting up,” Conley said.Conley says she’s working with the Department of Justice and the Veterans Administration to get people off the streets and into the units, but first the building has to be brought up to code.She says a team of tenants has been helping her, including Auntonio Dowdeil.“When she came in the situation, she got it at a bad moment, but since she’s been here, everybody that she was against us, but she isn’t, she’s been helping out a lot. She’s the only person who’s shown this much dedication to actually want to do something for somebody and help the community really,” Dowdeil said.Sarah Russo who’s also a tenant and has worked at the front desk says she witnessed the transition in management.“December of last year, was hectic, very crazy, we didn’t have help. Teena came in January, we went from 42 occupiable rooms at the Star, within 6 months we were up to 107, just with renovation,” Russo said.The Star Motel and its sister hotel next door, the Lake Cecile Inn, were deemed unsafe by the county after facing a number of code enforcement violations. Now, the county is fencing the property off.“The last conversation I had with the county was once this place is vacant, meaning no people live here, they will put a fence up, or we can put a fence up. They decided to come put the fence up today and as you can there is people here,” Conley said.Workers putting the fence up tell us they’re leaving open gates at the entrances of the driveways, so people can still get in and out. In the meantime, Conley and volunteers say they aren’t giving up on their plans for transitional housing.“I refuse to give up, because if I give up, that shows my 14-year-old son to give up when things get too hard. Not going to happen,” Russo said. We reached out to Osceola County leaders regarding the situation. They responded in a statement saying in part:“The property is being fenced off as a means to secure the buildings. The front gates will remain open until they confirm that both the Star Motel and Lake Cecile Inn and Suites are empty. They will also board up any unoccupied/vacant rooms over the next few weeks…. We are not aware of any significant efforts by the owner or manager to correct code violations.”

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