Apr 10


Lights out at Buffalo hostel

Electricity shut off at Hostel Buffalo-Niagara, and city condemned the building. Hostel supporters have been fighting eviction from the city-owned building since November.

Updated at 3:06 p.m. Wednesday

The city shut down Hostel Buffalo-Niagara Wednesday following an inspection that resulted in condemnation of the downtown building.

City inspectors cited unsafe electrical service to the hostel as well as structural hazards at an attached rear building. The fire department then condemned the city-owned hostel building, citing the electrical issues. 

The building and fire safety inspectors arrived shortly before noon to inspect 667 Main St., the hostel’s building, according to a hostel employee. The inspectors unscrewed a door in the back to gain access to the adjacent building at 664 Washington St., which is vacant and also owned by the city.

“The City of Buffalo Department of Permits and Inspection Services conducted a review of the structure, noticed a safety issue with the electrical system, and called in National Grid. National Grid independently advised BURA of imminent danger and required that the electricity be disconnected,” Hope Young-Watkins, the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency’s senior director, said in a statement.  

The moment the lights went out at Hostel Buffalo -Niagara. Video by Garrett Looker.

National Grid just before 1 p.m. shut off power to the hostel, which has occupied the Theater District building since 1996.

Last April, city building inspectors cited the Washington Street portion of the property for nine violations, including water damage to the electrical panels, which supply the hostel with its power.

“If they looked at it and it was an emergency, why wasn’t that done months ago? You’re putting people’s lives in danger, and you didn’t know that?” said Hostel Buffalo-Niagara employee Elaine Grisanti.

Grisanti said she was told by BURA, which controls both properties, that the electrical panel would not be replaced yet because the agency lacks funding for emergency repairs.

BURA said it will find alternative boarding  for the hostel’s current residents. 

BURA is working to make accommodations for existing occupants. The construction process will proceed as planned. BURA remains committed to making the structure safe for continued use,” Young-Watkins’ statement read.

The hostel has seven rooms, and can accommodate up to 48 guests.

Despite the loss of electricity and imminent closure,  hostel manager Jonathan Piret said he was hopeful the hostel can reopen.

“I’m going to be optimistic because I think that this place does an important service,” he said.

The city had given the hostel until April 15 to close on its own in preparation for repairs to the adjacent Washington Street building, which the agency claims threatens the safety of the hostel

“It is only a matter of time before sections of the roof and floor systems start to cave in if no structural intervention is undertaken,”  BURA’s engineering consultant, DiDonato Associates, said of the Washington Street building in a July report. “Our  professional opinion is that the property should vacate any occupants directly adjacent to [664] Washington during the construction due to the unknowns and risks associated.”

BURA initially ordered the hostel to vacate March 1, then March 25, in anticipation of the planned work. The closure date was then moved to April 15, to accommodate guests booked for the April 8 eclipse.

But hostel officials challenged the city’s order, saying their engineer determined it was safe for the hostel to remain open during construction.

“It is commonplace throughout the construction industry to perform rehabilitation projects on portions of a building while other portions remain occupied,” reads an engineering report from Foit-Albert Associates, an architectural and engineering firm hired by the hostel. 

“We strongly believe that we can stay alive as work is done in the back of the building,” Piret said.

The hostel and its supporters have been lobbying against the eviction, saying it is unnecessary and likely to put the hostel out of business permanently. 

Nonetheless, hostel representatives said they informed current guests that the establishment might close.

“We have warned people that there is a disagreement between us and the city,” Piret said, noting that guests are booked through the weekend, including a refugee family.

BURA put the repair work out to bid on April 1. Proposals are due April 24. At least three construction firms have demonstrated interest in the work. One of these is Draghi Burgos Construction, whose owner, Alexander Burgos, served as president of the hostel’s board of directors until recently. 

“I advised him to resign to avoid any appearance of impropriety in case he wants to bid on the project,” said Laurence Rubin, an attorney for the hostel.

Other firms demonstrating interest in the project include Mark Cerrone, Inc. of Niagara Falls and Allstate General Contracting of West Seneca.

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