The two scantily-clad women lounging in the street-level hotel room on downtown's Main Street barely get a notice from most passersby -- nor, for that matter, do the three hunky men hanging off bunk beds in a similar windowed setup next door.
The actor-models, who are doing a monthlong stint in the glass-walled rooms, are there to advertise the Stay, a new boutique hotel and youth hostel that opened recently on Main Street, between 6th and 7th streets. In an area that has long been the domain of the city's less fortunate and even now is sparsely populated by a parking lot, a taco stand and a tailor shop, they chat online and dance in front of webcams set to record their every move.
The display is proving a not-so-subtle publicity stunt for a hotel owner trying to bring Sunset Strip chic to the skid row area. But it's also a scene in an ongoing debate in the area about the future of some of the old hotels that for generations have served poor people and transients with no place else to live.
The Stay hotel is carved out of the decidedly less glamorous Cecil Hotel (the hotels have separate entrances). Since a group of partners bought the property last year, the owners have been performing a series of upgrades on the 80-year-old hotel, which for many years was a magnet for drugs and prostitution but also served low-income residents. The efforts have been cheered by some downtown boosters, but some advocates for the poor worry about longtime low-income residents being pushed out.
The Stay doesn't look like your average downtown residential hotel, from its mod orange and white lobby with a matching ATM machine, Apple computers and flokati rugs to its Xbox game area. With prices that hover under $100 a night and options that include shared rooms with bunk beds, the Stay is aimed at guests in their early 20s.
William Lanting, who runs the Stay, said the hotel-hostel represents something different for downtown: a chance to serve young, hip tourists, mostly European or Asian travelers in their teens and 20s, who come to downtown because they are used to finding activity in a city's center, usually near a train station. The area, he said, is "quickly transforming. It's exciting to see. This is a way to create a new neighborhood that's very vibrant and exciting. The time is right for this."
The opening of Stay is the latest part of a revitalization boom on the edges of skid row, where old buildings have been converted into lofts and long-vacant storefronts now house eateries, galleries and other shops.
The revitalization has led to worries that some of the residential hotels in the area could be swept up by upscale gentrification.
Advocates for the poor feel that efforts at Stay and the Cecil have run afoul of a city ordinance that put a moratorium on the conversion of low-priced residential hotels into expensive lofts or tourist hotels.
When the ordinance was passed, first as a temporary ban in 2006 and as a permanent freeze earlier this year, city officials included the Cecil on its list of residential hotels.
The hotel's owners countered that the Cecil was primarily serving tourists at the time of the ordinance, and they sued the city for relief from the ordinance and for $40 million in damages.
Becky Dennison of Los Angeles Community Action Network -- which intervened in the lawsuit between the city and the Cecil's owners on behalf of the low-income tenants -- called the process "frustrating."
She said that longtime tenants had been moved from their rooms to less-desirable ones, and that the renovations had been only for the tourists.
She also said the city should have stepped in to prevent the conversions, including a ground-level entrance into Stay, which is operated on three upper floors of the Cecil.
"I have no explanation for it," she said. "This is clearly a conversion of those floors to a tourist hotel. They renovated them, they built a new door -- all of that after the moratorium. In my opinion, that is the city asleep at the switch."
Lanting, a "hotel doctor" brought in by the Cecil's owners to create Stay as a "hotel within a hotel," would say only that the lawsuit was ongoing. He said the 138-room Stay was a prototype that he hoped to replicate elsewhere in cities such as San Diego or San Francisco.
For the last few years, the Cecil struggled with its ground-floor retail. A restaurant, optometrist and mini-mart opened and closed quickly, without finding a customer base on the block. So this time, Lanting said, the owners are opening their own retail services, in order to better cater to the customers of both hotels. Planned services for the ground floor include the Marty coffee shop, and Nip and Tuck, bar and food options, respectively.