By Melissa Quinn
With hostels gaining in popularity across the United States, Alexandria may be the next to boast a dormitory-style hotel if a local entrepreneur can win over City Hall.
“This is a good opportunity to bring different clientele, different types of people, to explore the city that otherwise wouldn’t know Alexandria existed,” said Paul Cianciolo, who wants to open a hostel in Old Town.
The project has been in the works for about three years. A hostel is not defined in the city’s building ordinances and codes, meaning the requirements the company must meet are vague.
Cianciolo and his partners spent the intervening years working toward a solution with city staff. Officials ultimately decided to classify the hostel along the lines of a hotel, which requires there to be one parking space per guest room.
But most hostels provide rooms with congregate living, with sometimes up to 20 people staying in one room — which puts the project squarely in uncharted waters for city staff.
“We’re looking into it as a hotel, or a drilling unit, or a dorm and merging all those together to make sure it’s a safe place,” Cianciolo said.
If approved — first by the planning commission next week and then city council at a later date — the hostel would open at 216 S. Peyton St. as early as this fall. The 10,000 square-foot building would remain open 24 hours a day and feature 16 rooms with 94 beds.
Guests can stay in one of five private rooms or share a room with other travelers, Cianciolo said. But all guests have access to communal kitchen, bathroom, laundry and lounge areas, according to documents filed with City Hall.
“When you’re hostelling, [guests] don’t really like all the big tourist things,” Cianciolo said. “They want to be able to get to know the community as well and they have that opportunity in Alexandria.”
If Cianciolo’s dream becomes reality, the hostel would be the first in the Port City. There are, however, several located up and down the East Coast in locations including Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington and Harper’s Ferry, W. Va.
As hostels grow in popularity, they have become more upscale. Larger companies now are willing to major investments in that sector of the hospitality industry.
“They’re completely different than what they were in Europe 20 years ago,” Cianciolo said. “It’s actually changed a lot.”
Though not too different from a traditional hotel, hostels — which began popping up in the United States in the 1940s —provide affordable lodging for travelers. At Capital Hostels, for example, guests will pay roughly $30 per night for a shared room and $90 for a private room in Alexandria.
Since hostels typically attract more youthful travelers, Cianciolo is hopeful his endeavor will encourage young people to explore the city.
“There’s so much to see and do,” he said. “You don’t spend as much on the room, but then people who are going to stay there are going to spend money out in the city on the local economy.”
Cianciolo has hoped to bring a hostel to the metropolitan area for years and toyed with the idea of opening one in Arlington and Washington. But Alexandria’s community-feel sealed the deal for a future location as far as he was concerned.
Once he gets approval, Cianciolo hopes to start renovations on the Peyton Street building. The upgrades include adding fire sprinklers, bathrooms and a cafe/kitchen. He also plans to add a small hotel bar, serving only local Virginia brewed beers and wines.
If all goes to plan, Capital Hostels will open by the fall.
“It’s really about a sense of shared community and being able to meet new people,” Cianciolo said. “We’re just a group of local people that have a passion for travel and want to bring people into Old Town.”