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Starting a Hostel in GR


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A good friend and I are working on the early steps to creating a hostel here in Grand Rapids. We've been Michiganders our entire lives and have decided to pursue this endeavor as a nonprofit. We're working on our 501©(3) app now and will be accepting donations in the remotely close future. We don't have much in the way of startup funding (our own personal bank accounts, which are those of two recent college grads) and have not found an ideal location as of yet.

We plan to situate the hostel in a neighborhood between Eastown and downtown, similar to the Leonard at Logan B&B. Obviously, we would have a much lower cost (~$25 per night) to accommodate those people that can't afford to stay at the hotels downtown. Our city is ripe for this, especially with our booming food, beer, and art scenes.

Basically, I'm here for ideas and support. We're willing to work with nearly anyone that can help, financially or with connections, and we feel that marketing for donations is the next step if we want to succeed.

We do plan to make this a sustainable entity, both financially and environmentally. We will be working largely with volunteers to get the job done and need to begin marketing for those, as well.

Our website, which currently redirects to a blog, is http://www.stayhostel.org.

Any suggestions or leads on buildings, assistance for nonprofits--anything really--would be appreciated.

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Not to discourage you, but you will want to investigate the city's zoning restrictions that pertain to this type of use. The L@L B&B was greatly restricted in what they can do (host "events") and their attempt to open a similar B&B use in another area was denied at the BZA level.

The planning department can provide guidance as to the zoning classifications within which such a use would be permitted.


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I've been to an event at the B&B before, a fundraiser for another nonprofit, and I have looked into the zoning laws--there are no regulations pertaining directly to a hostel. I'll definitely get in contact with the Planning Dept before we pursue much further, hopefully the officials will like the idea of a hostel in the city. Fingers crossed.

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My interpretation of the current ordinance (N.B. I do not work for the city, but have done this regarding many jurisdictions throughout Michigan and other states):

A hostel would fall under the definition of "transient lodging," although it's not specifically addressed (look up the section on director approval). Such a use is permitted by right in Mixed-Use Commercial Zone Districts, and also mentioned in the City Center district.

L@L ran into neighborhood opposition due to event spill-over (loudness, late-night parties, visitor misbehavior, on-street parking, traffic, insufficient parking contained on the lot, bridal photography encroaching onto private property). On a personal level, I did not see a willingness to comply on the part of the applicant, in either of the pertinent cases. The building is situated in a residential neighborhood, and not one occupied by absentee landlords. (Not to impugn such owners, but they don't care too much about the listed issues.)

I've stayed at hostels. I live in a residential neighborhood, and I wouldn't want a hostel opening next door. A moment's reflection will bring up the many reasons for this. Seems like there would be a commercially-zoned building that could be repurposed. Another caution: do not rely on the opinion of a real estate professional as to whether this use would be allowed, or granted approval. The current form-based code is much more flexible than previous editions, and a strong case could be made for a hostel to cater to ArtPrizers or rapids kayakers or Grandwich testers or other "cool city" visitors.

Hope that you find this helpful.

EDIT: some ideas



FB page for the concept

check out The Salon on FB, which is as lively now as this site was in the glory days of "keep it a secret"

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Good luck. Go to Article 16 of the Zoning Code, page 352 of the online PDF document. You'll finding something in the "Lodging" section that defines what you want to do. While there are not regulations that pertain "directly" to hostels, there are almost certainly rules that would govern it. In a residentially zoned district, you would absolutely need a special land use variance. Your use classification would fall under Lodging, Short Term. Depending on the size of the place, and assuming that you will live there, you could call it a B&B. If you aren't that, you're probably a motel.

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  • 3 months later...

Saw this in an enewsletter I subscribe to from Adventure Cycling:


"You guys have to add this place to Bike Bits!" an excited reader
implored in a message sent last week. "This brand-new hostel [in
Cleveland] is right on the Northern Tier route. It is a real cheap,
bike-friendly stop in the heart of the city just steps from a bike
shop, a bicycle-themed brewery, and Lake Erie beaches. It would make
a great place for a layover/rest day. The owner is a cyclist who has
teamed up with the local bike shop, Joy Machines, and has already
hosted a few touring cyclists this fall." And though the hostel is
new, the building it occupies is old.


Made me wonder how this project was going.

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