Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Room for a backpack

Youth hostel could make affordable accommodation in Ketchum a reality

Express Staff Writer

Irwin Sentilles Photo by Willy Cook

While the five-star Warm Springs Ranch Resort and Hotel Ketchum applications meander their way through the public process, Ketchum might not have to wait too long for a new accommodation alternative.

Chris Campbell and Irwin Sentilles, representing the Ketchum-based design firm First Fourth, presented the City Council with initial designs for the Sun Valley Youth Hostel on Monday.

As presented, the hostel, which would be located in the existing 411 Building, seated at the northeast corner of Leadville Avenue and Sixth Street, would hold 64 beds at a cost between $35 and $50 per night.

"From what we know, there hasn't ever been a hostel in the area," Sentilles said in an interview on Tuesday.

Sentilles said that the owners of the building, who he declined to identify, came to First Fourth with the idea in February, looking to assess the feasibility of creating a hostel at that location.

"They're interested in the idea and the vibrancy it could bring to downtown Ketchum," Sentilles said.

Without a doubt, the hostel's room rate would bring in a different segment of the tourist market than the above mentioned proposed hotels, which would cost around 10 times more per night.

"At the beginning we didn't know if it would be possible or profitable," Sentilles said of the project that would target guests age 20 to 35. "Fortunately, since they already own the building, the expense won't be too large, just the cost of operating staff."

While the penthouse condominium on the top floor would remain, the other three floors would be gutted and redesigned to include beds, lockers, lounges and a kitchen area, among other facilities.

As the outside of the building will remain unchanged, the renovation will not require a design review or public hearing process.

However, Sentilles and Campbell were in front of the council not only to publicly introduce the plan, but also to begin solving the greatest stumbling block: inadequate available parking.

While the city's ordinance governing parking allows seven on-site parking spaces, Sentilles said that this would not satisfy practical demand of the hostel, which would need around 30 spaces based on a 50 percent occupancy rate.

"If we can't park 30 guest cars, we can't really run the business," Sentilles said.

To address this need, Sentilles proposed leasing a portion of Ketchum's Park 'n Ride lot, located next to the Wood River Community YMCA, for hostel guests.

Guests would then be able to walk or take the bus back downtown.

While the council didn't schedule a meeting to discuss this proposal, Sentilles said they're hoping to be back before the council next month.

Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall said that although there could be a problem with future use of the parking lot, he supported the project in general.

"I think this is a great idea and the location is perfect," Hall said during the meeting. "We need this kind of product."

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