The fu­ture of down­town Buf­falo’s hos­tel looks more se­cure

The Buffalo News - - LOCAL NEWS - By Mark Som­mer

Hos­tel Buf­falo-Ni­a­gara’s long-term prospects of re­main­ing down­town have taken a step for­ward.

Af­ter so­lic­it­ing pro­pos­als from de­vel­op­ers in Fe­bru­ary, the city has de­cided not to sell the build­ing at 667 Main St. where the hos­tel is lo­cated, Mayor By­ron W. Brown said. In­stead, plans call for the hos­tel to stay put while the Buf­falo Ur­ban Re­newal Agency devel­ops mixed-in­come hous­ing in the back of the build­ing.

“We let them know the city does have a com­mit­ment to the hos­tel,” the mayor said. “We think it is a de­sir­able use for down­town Buf­falo, and we feel very con­fi­dent we will able to work to­gether for the long term.”

Cliff Madell, the hos­tel’s pres­i­dent, said he ap­pre­ci­ated the mayor’s sup­port, and that with a four-year lease there are no im­me­di­ate con­cerns. But he said the like­li­hood of pay­ing more in rent af­ter that re­mains a big con­cern.

“We are very ap­pre­cia­tive of our long-term part­ner­ship with the city, and look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing that re­la­tion­ship,” Madell said. “Our con­cern for the fu­ture is that we may be re­quired to raise our prices, which would jeop­ar­dize our ser­vice as a hos­tel by be­com­ing too ex­pen­sive for our young pop­u­la­tion of trav­el­ers.”

The hos­tel charges trav­el­ers $30 a night.

The 50-bed fa­cil­ity, lo­cated in the The­atre District since 1998, draws around 6,000 vis­i­tors an­nu­ally from around the world. Al­though the lease with the Ni­a­gara Fron­tier Coun­cil of Amer­i­can Youth Hos­tels doesn’t ex­pire for four years, there were con­cerns the build­ing’s sale would lead to its ouster be­cause the not-for-profit pays rent well be­low mar­ket rate.

The hos­tel re­sponded to the city’s re­quest for pro­pos­als with a $1.7 mil­lion plan to re­de­velop the rest of the build­ing into 15 af­ford­able ex­tended stay units and three com­mer­cial spa­ces. Po­ten­tial tenants in­cluded the­ater peo­ple in town for pro­duc­tions, med­i­cal re­searchers com­ing to the Buf­falo Ni­a­gara Med­i­cal Cam­pus for brief pe­ri­ods and med­i­cal stu­dents tak­ing up res­i­dence while on ro­ta­tion.

Af­ter meet­ing with the city, Madell said the hos­tel would be will­ing to change its plan from ex­tended stay units to mixed-in­come hous­ing.

Brown said while he prefers the Buf­falo Ur­ban Re­newal Agency de­velop the build­ing, the city could de­cide at a later time to re­con­sider.

“While right now this is the way we are en­vi­sion­ing mov­ing for­ward, we are go­ing to con­tinue to talk and not close the door to those con­ver­sa­tions with the hos­tel,” Brown said. “But right now, we think the most vi­able op­tion for the hos­tel, for the city and for the res­i­dents of the com­mu­nity is for the city to de­velop the Wash­ing­ton Street side of the build­ing.”

An on­go­ing in­ter­nal dis­pute be­tween the lo­cal hos­tel and the na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion has also com­pli­cated the lo­cal group’s of­fer.

The city’s de­ci­sion to de­velop the build­ing was sur­pris­ing since it has sold three build­ings on the 600 block of Main Street in re­cent years – the Mar­ket Ar­cade, the for­mer Mar­ket Ar­cade cinema and the Ir­ish Clas­si­cal The­atre build­ing. The ra­tio­nale was to re­turn the build­ings into pri­vate own­er­ship and get them back on the tax rolls.

Brown said the city also wants to help the hos­tel im­prove its busi­ness plan, in­clud­ing ex­am­in­ing best prac­tices in the hos­tel in­dus­try na­tion­ally and in­ter­na­tion­ally.

A base­ment lounge at the Hos­tel Buf­falo-Ni­a­gara, at 667 Main St. in the down­town The­atre District. The Buf­falo Ur­ban Re­newal Agency plans to de­velop mixed-use hous­ing in the back of the build­ing.

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