Hotel planned for long-vacant 115 S. Union St. approved

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By Alexa Epitropoulos | [email protected] 

The Alexandria City Council voted 6-0 to approve a modified permit allowing a 64-room boutique hotel with a 115-seat restaurant with 20 outdoor seats at 115 S. Union St. at its public hearing on Saturday.

Building owner CMB-GME LLC went before council asking for the special use permit, which allows for a parking reduction of one space for every two rooms, which would mean a total of 32 hotel spaces, down from the 45 required hotel spaces, and 65 garage spaces for public use.

The vote did not include Mayor Allison Silberberg, who departed the public hearing early for a flight to the U.S. Council of Mayors conference, where she was a speaker.

Some business owners in the area expressed concern about the building remaining vacant should the deal with the would-be hotelier fall through.

Rick Badwey, owner of Museum Framing, a tenant at 115 S. Union St., said he supports the move and encouraged city council to approve the permit.

“As the building has been vacant, I see more people, intoxicated people, coming up to the building on the weekends. I’ve had to call the police and asked them to please do something about it. It doesn’t look nice,” Badwey said.

Badwey said that, as a 20-year tenant at the building, he is concerned that the building owners – if they’re not able to get agreeable terms – will drop their plans, as has happened in the past. Plans announced in 2016 by CMB-GME LLC to convert the property into an upscale condo development fell through. A majority of the building has been vacant since Birkenstock closed its Old Town outpost in 2015.

“When a building is vacant, it invites trouble. I’m concerned if they decline this. As a resident of Old Town, I’m concerned it’s going to invite all sorts of people doing harm to themselves through a building being vacant and desolate,” Badwey said. “With so many vacancies up and down King Street, is this another building that will be closed down?”

Alexandria resident Phil Mattis, who lives across the street from the development on Wales Alley, expressed discontent about the parking reduction. He also said he had not received notice about the project and noted his concern about the quantity of dumpsters the hotel may require, citing a claim made in a letter to the editor published in the Alexandria Times on June 15 titled “Deluge of hotels endangering Old Town’s appeal.”

“It’s only parking on one side. I have very intimate knowledge of daily and morning activities. I have seen 18-wheelers pull passed the Ice House. The dump trucks barely make it through,” Mattis said.

Mattis said that the hotel is “workable and doable,” but said that concerns over reduction in parking had to be worked out.

Cathy Puskar, the attorney representing building owner CMB-GME LLC, said her client had sent proper notice and refuted claims about dumpster quantity published in the letter to the editor, which was written by Brandon Hensley.

Puskar said the hotel would contribute to the “thriving mixed-use community in Old Town.”

“What we have here is a great opportunity to convert an obsolete building to a new 64-room hotel that will create jobs and revenue for the city to help our commercial tax base and to help provide many of the things we were discussing earlier in the day in the context of the business improvement district,” Puskar said. “We need to support businesses, we need to allow them to thrive. This is a good reuse of the building. It will have a ground floor restaurant; it will be much more inviting from a pedestrian standpoint.”

The as-yet-unnamed hotel is one of two new boutique hotels proposed for Old Town. The Hyatt Center King Street, which will be built on the 1600 and 1700 blocks of King Street, would bring 124 new rooms to the west end of Old Town. Plans for that development include 10,000 square feet of office space and 2,500 square feet of retail.

Both of these planned developments come on the heels of the 120-room Hotel Indigo, which opened last month on the 200 block of South Union Street. According to recent statistics from Visit Alexandria, the city’s hotel occupancy rate between July 2016 and April 2017 was 71.1 percent and projected that the occupancy rate for FY2017, which ends on June 30, would finish at 73 percent.

Evan Berkowitz contributed to this report.

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