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Hostel Faces Hostility From Merchants, Preservationists

July 06, 1986|JAY GOLDMAN | Times Staff Writer

American Youth Hostels Inc. is facing opposition to its plans to build a 200-bed hostel on a downtown Santa Monica site that includes the city's oldest building, the Rapp Saloon.

Hostel officials plan to renovate the old saloon and city landmark on 2nd Street between Broadway and Santa Monica Boulevard, The building once served as Santa Monica's city hall. The saloon would be used as a meeting room and lounge for hostel members staying at an adjacent four-story building that hostel officials hope to begin constructing in early 1987.

The $3.35-million project, like other hostels, would provide inexpensive lodgings in a dormitory-style setting for people who have paid $10 to $20 to become members of American Youth Hostels. Members pay a nightly fee and cannot stay in one hostel more than three nights in a row.

But some downtown merchants and property owners fear that the hostel would become a flophouse for the homeless. And the Santa Monica Historical Society wants the building for its own use.

Not the Answer

"We are not a part of the homeless answer," Tony Stanton, a board member for the Los Angeles chapter of American Youth Hostels, said. "Our clientele come to a hostel expecting a safe, clean environment."

He also said he is opposed to giving up the saloon to the society.

Both positions will be aired during several public hearings. The hostel organization submitted its plans to the Planning Department for analysis late last month. The hostel must be approved by the Planning and Landmarks commissions and the Architectural Review Board before construction can begin.

The hostel site is near the Third Street Mall, a three-block stretch of businesses that are striving to come back after years of decline. Some are not happy about the proposed hostel.

"The merchants are really trying to stop it," said Margie Ghiz, manager of the Midnight Special Bookstore on the mall. "I think they are afraid that the homeless are going to be using the beds."

But Ghiz, who said she shares some of the businesses' concerns, is in favor of the project. "I think the intent of the hostel is to house tourists," she said.

And other Third Street Mall businessmen said they have adopted a wait-and-see attitude. "I haven't come down on one side or the other yet," real estate broker Ed Flores said.

'Generally Positive Thing'

"I think it will bring people down here at night and that will be a good thing provided the kinds of people that frequent the hostel are good people," he said. "I don't see it as one of the greatest things that ever happened to the mall, but I see it as a generally positive thing."

But Ada Kadinger, owner of a manufacturing company on Colorado Avenue several miles from the hostel site, is opposed to the hostel. She has formed the No Hostel in the Central Business Section Committee, which she said has eight members.

"Some people feel the hostel would aid the business section," she said. "But if they can't afford a hotel, I am not sure these people will spend money here. If they are going to consider a hostel at all it should be located on the edge of town in an industrial area."

But Stanton said his organization plans to close escrow on the Rapp Saloon site by the end of this month. The $3.35 million for the project includes the cost of the site and construction of a four-story building.

The Coastal Commission has already approved $730,000 for the proposed hostel, according to Stanton and City Manager John Jalili. That money comes from fees paid by developers of luxury hotels within the commission's jurisdiction. The fees are used to help pay for low-income housing or lodgings along the coast.

Hopes to Get Fees

American Youth Hostels received the Coastal Commission grants because it is a nonprofit, charitable and educational organization that seeks to provide affordable lodgings for travelers, Stanton said.

Stanton said his organization hopes to get another $500,000 in developer fees through the city of Santa Monica and a $300,000 loan from the Coastal Conservancy. The city also has a program in which developers of luxury properties must subsidize low-income lodging or housing in the city.

The rest of the financing will come from donations and commercial loans.

"The hostel provides dormitory-style accommodations for people, church groups and families," Stanton said. "We also provide a common kitchen where members can prepare their own meals, and large dining rooms" as well as a lounge and meeting rooms, he said.

American Youth Hostels is a membership organization, he said. Adults pay $20 a year to join, children and senior citizens pay $10. There are about 100,000 hostel members in the United States, he said.

Members also pay about $10 a night to stay at any of 300 hostels nationwide. They can also stay in any of the 5,000 hostels located in 53 countries which have hostel organizations that are members of the International Youth Hostel Federation.

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