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Editorial: City’s decision to sell hostel is a sign of the times of downtown’s rebirth

For two decades Hostel Buffalo-Niagara has provided a base for thousands of mostly young people from around the world to explore all the region has to offer.

But its once-forlorn location – 667 Main St. in the Theatre District – is now a prime location for redevelopment as part of the city’s downtown revival. The city owns the building and is looking to spin it off, as it has with other properties in the block.

The city’s Urban Renewal Agency last month issued a request for proposals from developers interested in the building. The not-for-profit, 50-bed hostel pays the city below market rate rent for the property under the terms of a 1996 sweetheart deal with the previous administration.

Back then it was a good deal for both parties. The downtown real estate market was cold; the hostel brought some life to a block that wasn’t attracting proposals. Now downtown is hot. Cars have returned to that part of Main Street, and so has a critical mass of residents and visitors. Developers are responding. The city has sold three buildings in the 600 block in recent years: the Market Arcade, the former Market Arcade cinema and the Irish Classical Theatre building.

Indeed, the city is right to look into selling the building, even though it is home to “one of the highest-rated hostels in the country,” as hostel Vice President Anthony Caferro characterized it. Caferro unfortunately also says he does not think the hostel could afford to relocate without the benefit of favorable lease terms. The hostel plans to submit its own $1.7 million plan to redevelop the rest of the building into 15 affordable extended-stay units and three commercial spaces.

To the point that the hostel has been good for the city, a glimpse at the mostly millennial travelers offers testimony. As News staff reporter Mark Sommer wrote, recent guests arrived from Egypt, China, Somalia, Turkey, Germany, England and Canada, along with many out-of-state Americans.
Approximately 6,000 travelers stay at the hostel annually. These visitors get to know the region, whether on foot, public transportation or bicycle – Caferro founded and operates Slow Roll Buffalo.

The hostel has become part of the fabric of Buffalo, providing a temporary home for budget-oriented travelers seeking sociable accommodations.

If the hostel has to leave its Main Street address, it should be willing to make a serious effort to find a new location. And city officials, recognizing the good accomplished by the hostel, should be willing to assist in that effort.

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