Repurposing The Elena Flats Building

January 13, 2015 56 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Hostel Detroit illustrates one of the many ways that citizen-led advocates have initiated a creative re-purposing of the city of Detroit, MI. Could this productive rehabilitation provide a model for preserving the Elena Flats building?

A demolition application for the Elena Flats building located at 122 East Duval Street is expected to go for consideration before the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission at their January 28, 2015 meeting. The 105-year-old building is eligible for listing on the National Register.

Elena Flats is one of the last historic structures in what was once a vibrant downtown rooming house district built after the Great Fire of 1901. This compact cluster of residential structures helped fuel the economic growth of Jacksonville’s urban core during reconstruction efforts following the fire, providing a steady stream of residents and visitors that supported third places such as restaurants, bars, dry goods stores and social clubs. These buildings also offered inexpensive and convenient boarding options for employees of both small and large businesses throughout downtown.  

Historic preservation in and of itself has far-reaching impacts to Florida’s economy. A statewide study conducted by the University of Florida and Rutgers University regarding the economic impacts of historic preservation in Florida uses quantitative analysis to determine that historic preservation had large, positive impacts on job creation, tax collections and property values within the State of Florida.

According to a 2012 study on the benefits of historic preservation, "annual economic activities in the state attributable to preservation equaled $4.2 billion, which translated to 123,242 jobs and $2.766 billion in income. This includes economic activity related to historic building rehabilitation, heritage tourism, Main Street programs, and historical museums operation.

The Economic Impacts of Historic Preservation in Florida also reveals the startling statistic that for every dollar generated in Florida’s historic preservation grants, two dollars return to the state in direct revenues. A dollar directed to the Florida Main Street program, modeled after the National Main Street design, shows a tenfold return."

While the role of the historic preservation commission will be to analyze the building in the context of having architectural, cultural, economic or social historical significance, it is perhaps just as important to consider possible uses that preserve the building. In that sense, one of the most striking examples of one such alternative would be to examine Hostel Detroit.

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Hostel Detroit illustrates one of the many ways that citizen-led advocates have initiated a creative re-purposing of the city of Detroit, MI. Located in North Corktown, one of six neighborhoods officially recognized to be within the Greater Downtown Districts of Detroit, Hostel Detroit opened its doors to the public in April of 2011. Hostel Detroit is an innovative 501(c)(3) educational non-profit hostel that provides affordable accommodations for tourists while educating guests about the unique sights and sounds of the city.

At the heart of the organization is the Hostel Detroit Ambassador program. The program links visitors with an army of over 100 passionate volunteers that provide tours and gives the kind of insiders advice on the hidden gems and best places to visit in Detroit, that only a local perspective can provide. Upon arriving at Hostel Detroit, guests attend an orientation session with Ambassadors that is tailored to a list of interests dictated by the guest when a reservation is initially secured.

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[ quote]"Our primary mission is education.  We want our guests to leave with their unique viewpoint on and more profound understanding of our city.  By linking visitors with Ambassadors, passionate neighbors, fascinating events, and Detroit’s unique resources when they are visiting the city. Specifically, we said that Hostel Detroit would be much more proactive than a normal hostel. We want to be sure that every single visitor has the opportunity to receive a thorough understanding of the city and region which will allow them to more fully appreciate what the city has to offer as a vacation destination as well as a potential site for future residential and commercial activities. Through understanding the history, geography and culture of Detroit, a visitor can begin to change the assumptions they have made about Detroit and the people who live here, and begin to grasp the impact of Detroit as a city that changed the world."

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