Walker's Point hostel struggles to find home
If Carolyn Weber and Tristan Klein get their way, Walker's Point will offer Milwaukee's first hostel-style hotel called Third Coast Inn. The question, however, is where exactly the hostel will be located.
Weber and Klein would like to open it at 602 S. 3rd St., in the former home of Milwaukee developer Juli Kaufmann and her family. The plan was to offer 18 dormitory bunk beds within five rooms, along with a kitchen, common area and two bathrooms.
Weber and Klein would live in a coach house, also on the property, and would rent both of the buildings from Kaufman and her husband, Michael.
A proposal was filed with the Milwaukee Board of Zoning Appeals. A meeting was scheduled for December, but was postponed until Jan. 17, 2013. However, according to Weber, it's not looking good for that particular building.
"The permit requires zoning that will be difficult, if not impossible. They won't let us do a B&B permit anymore, but maybe a hotel / motel permit," says Weber.
The hotel / motel permit would require firewalls and sprinkler systems, along with other modifications that might put the project out of budget.
"We will still try because the building is perfect for a hostel – and Hostel International, who I met with last week, agrees," says Weber.
Two neighbors filed letters of opposition against the hostel. Both neighbors would need to retract their letters for the plan to move forward.
"Hostels have negative stereotypes and so even if we got approval for the permits, we need approval from those two neighbors which is looking more unlikely," says Weber.
However, if the couple doesn't get the 3rd Street building, they plan to open elsewhere in the Walker's Point neighborhood. They hope to partner with other businesses and attract more investors.
"We don't have equity and like many other start-up businesses it is difficult to get loans through traditional sources," she says.
Area businesses have been more supportive, according to Kaufmann.
"So far, there has been a groundswell of support. This is encouraging. At the same time, we have seen that there is still a lot of misunderstanding about hostels and I hope that we can continue to educate the public about the real assets," says Kaufmann.
"I also hope that our government leaders will decide to be advocates by supporting Weber and Klein rather than obstructing or opposing them. In this regard, I think we still have work to do in Milwaukee to be a place more welcoming to new ideas and encouraging of new entrepreneurs."
Regardless of the hostel opening, the couple plans to also open Coast In Bicycles, a bicycle sales, rental and repair shop, within a few blocks of the hostel. Coast In Bikes landed its first $10,000 investor at the end of December. According to the Facebook page, this is 33 percent of the total needed for the shop to open in spring 2013.
Third Coast Inn would offer affordable, alternative housing to, in most cases, younger, eco-friendly travelers. Kaufmann's 3rd Street building was built in 2006 and has a geothermal heating system along with many other green features.
Hostels are common throughout Europe and regionally exist in Madison and Chicago.
"Hostels are wonderful travel options. Milwaukee will be enhanced by offering a more affordable, community-driven model for visitors," says Kaufmann.
Kaufmann sees value to the hostel in others ways, too. As a bike advocate, she believes both will contribute to making Milwaukee a more bicycle-friendly city. She also sees it as an opportunity to support homegrown entrepreneurs who are "passionate about the city and want to invest their time and talents."
"Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and I am excited to see the possibility of two brand new businesses opening, particularly given their emphasis on sustainability and the environment," says Kaufmann.
"I believe in them and their ideas. We need more visionary and courageous Milwaukeeans like Carolyn and Tristan who are willing to follow their dreams. We will all benefit when they do," she says.
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