By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
The American Hotel, a business that promotes international understanding, could not have opened in a more appropriate location — one block east of Union Station in the International District.
It will reopen as one of Seattle’s two new hostels on July 31. The other hostel is scheduled to open in the city’s Belltown neighborhood. The hostels will provide new jobs for the area.
For $35 per night, international travelers and students will be able to sleep in one of 320 beds at the American Hotel.
“There will be some opportunity for extended stay lodging,” said Eagle Rock Ventures co-owner Scott Shapiro. “You have all the amenities here and the transit hub with light rail coming in two weeks before we open. It’s pretty perfect for travelers.”
The American Hotel will also be one of about 70 hostels associated with Hostelling International USA, a nonprofit organization that operated a hostel in downtown Seattle until early 2007.
“Six of the top 10 Hostelling International locations in the United States are on the west coast, so the fact that they’ve been missing a location in Seattle for the last two years has been a big hole in their system,” Shapiro said.
American Hotel Building, LLC, started on minor renovations to the hostel on May 11. Shapiro and La Serena Holdings co-owner Jim Potter paid $4.6 million for the four-story, 34,000-square-foot building at 520 South King Street.
“We’re not tearing down walls. We’re keeping the wood molding on the stairs and in the hallways,” Shapiro said. “We’re keeping that historical nature to it, so what we’re really doing is refreshing it.”
Larry Larson, general manager of Hostelling International Seattle at the American Hotel, said he is looking for a good balance of housekeeping, front desk, management, and maintenance staff from “top to bottom.”
“Right now, I’m working on staffing,” Larson said. “We’ll have at least a dozen or two dozen employees that we’ll be hiring.”
Larson recommends that interested applicants should search Craiglist.org for the hostel’s available jobs.
The American Hotel has 90 rooms, most containing two bunk beds for four guests to share. Its largest room has seven bunk beds for 14 people. There is also a TV room, computer room, and a library.
The hostel will feature Wi-Fi access on every floor.
Constructed in 1925 by Rainier Heat and Power Company as a single room occupancy hotel, the American Hotel provided low-cost housing to workers in the fishing, railroad, timber, and shipping industries.
The Union Gospel Mission bought the building for $400,000 in 1980. It then remodeled the building by installing a new electrical system, plumbing, sprinkler system, and elevator. Rev. Stephen E. Burger opened it in 1982 as a shelter for about two dozen homeless women and children.
Union Gospel Mission continued operating it as a shelter for the next 29 years and is currently building a new shelter to be called “Hope Place” at its headquarters.
The hostel was originally supposed to be located in downtown Seattle, but Hostelling International USA lost its lease there. It ended up buying American Hotel for $4.6 million dollars.
“We knew that they wanted to be in this market. It’s a gateway city, and there’s an under supply of hostelling locations, and we saw this building [in the ID] and we thought it was a great fit for that use,” Shapiro said. “The thing about a hostel is it’s all about creating a community, unlike a typical hotel where you just go in your own room and don’t interact with other guests. The idea of a hostel is to interact with other guests from all over the world and create a sense of community and understanding, and that’s part of the adventure in staying in a hostel.”
Larson agreed with Shapiro and said the low cost of staying in a hostel will encourage tourists to come to Seattle. “This is going to be a clean, safe, secure, fun place to stay, and maybe, an alternative to a more expensive hotel room,” Larson said. “If [people are] going to come in for a family event, going to visit people locally, [or] going to come for a show, they can save some money, have a lot of fun, meet some people from all over the world, and have a very interesting experience on top of their city stay.”
Shapiro says a restaurant may soon join American Hotel’s current ground-floor retailers. ♦
For more information about the American Hotel, visit www.americanhotelseattle.com.
James Tabafunda can be reached at email@example.com.