By Derrick Perkins
Paul Cianciolo spent years pursuing his dream of opening a hostel in Alexandria — only to watch it unravel just before becoming reality.
The young businessman learned last week that his prospective landlord had received a more palatable offer from Alexandria City Public Schools for the building along the 200 block of S. Peyton St. The last-minute switch leaves plans for a hostel in south Old Town in limbo.
“We were in the final negotiations on the lease, going back and forth with the attorneys and all of that, kind of finalizing all the little details,” Cianciolo said. “I was expecting to get the lease back and getting ready to sign it and get going on [the project], and the owner came back and said, basically, he had another offer.”
The owner of the property, listed as JRN 216 Peyton LLC, had been hesitant to enter into a lease before the hostel partners had received City Hall’s permission to open in Alexandria, Cianciolo said. So the two sides agreed to draw up the contract after the project got city council’s blessing.
But that was no walk in the park. Cianciolo and his partner, James Brogan, faced fierce opposition in June from neighbors, who worried the hostel would invite trouble.
The concerns varied, but many feared the idea of young people wandering about in the same neighborhood as daycares. Add to that the hostel’s plan to serve alcohol — wine and beer — and it took a bit of convincing.
Ultimately, though, city council granted Cianciolo’s wish, though with a few caveats. And he hoped to open as early as this fall — until receiving the bad news from his prospective landlord.
Christina Mindrup, a local business expert with the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, described the tentative agreement that Cianciolo struck as one of two ways entrepreneurs generally navigate the early stages of launching a new venture. Business owners also often sign a lease with a condition that absolves the agreement if they can’t get the city’s OK for the project.
“The landlord may have just said, ‘I’m not willing to take the risk on this,’ and all of the sudden this other lessee comes along,” Mindrup said. “It’s a shame. It’s good for the City of Alexandria [that the space will be filled], but it’s a shame for the hostel. We’ll try to help them regroup and find another location.”
Cianciolo is less understanding. He estimates they put between $3,000 and $4,000 into the project, only to be sent back to square one. Though he’s still committed to opening a hostel, Alexandria may not be a good fit, he admitted.
“It feels like a failure, but we’re not giving up on it,” Cianciolo said. “It’s just tough for a small business to come in and kind of start something from nothing these days.”