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Youth hostel gets five-year deal to stay put

Thursday, December 13, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

After months of negotiations, American Youth Hostels and city officials finalized a license agreement that will ensure Austin’s only youth hostel will remain at its South Lakeshore Drive location on the southeastern shores of Lady Bird Lake.

 

Last spring, City Council intervened in the contract negotiations with the youth hostel, thwarting an attempt by the Parks and Recreation Department to oust it from parkland. Parks Director Sara Hensley returned to City Council last Thursday with a license agreement for the hostel that required last-minute changes before it came before Council for a vote.

 

Some of the terms of the contract proposed by the parks department seemed onerous. For example, attorney Michael Whellan, representing the hostel, told Council that he had removed a clause that would have allowed either party to delete the contract on 180 days notice, which would have effectively reduced the five-year contract to potentially only six months.

 

Whellan also modified language so that American Youth Hostel would be responsible for routine maintenance instead of all issues related to code compliance. A recent walk-through by city officials showed these repairs would be quite costly right off the bat.

 

Jaime Stockton of city building services told In Fact Daily that these repairs would have cost American Youth Hostels about $80,000, including roof repairs, tree trimming, heating-ventilation-and-air conditioning cleaning and service, tree trimming, window repairs, lighting, cleanup and upgrading of a ramp to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

 

Whellan backed down on asking for more parking, settling for two staff spots in the lot. Explaining how he and his client don’t want to be greedy with demands, Whellan said he was told that “pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered.”

 

Victor Ovalle, a spokesman for the Parks and Recreation Department, told In Fact Daily that the surface lot had always been designated for public parking, and the new contract now sets aside two spots for hostel staff.

 

City Council unanimously approved the amended license agreement for a five-year term with one five-year renewal option.

 

Mayor Lee Leffingwell inquired about the monthly $2,000 license payment to the city, asking if it might not be a bit low. Hensley said that she considered it a fair rate, noting that it was more than it was before.

 

Council members also questioned parks officials’ decision to waive requirements for a food, beverage and stand-up paddleboard concession run by Epic SUP that will operate from the hostel location.

 

Council Member Chris Riley said that while he applauded the effort to move forward with a concession, he did not understand why that couldn’t have been done through a request for proposal (RFP), which Hensley conceded was typically done.

 

Hensley explained that initiating a bid process would have taken an additional eight to 10 months. Hensley said that they wouldn’t have gotten the RFP process started “until this month, probably.”

 

Riley was clearly perplexed by this timeline, and refreshed his own memory about when the initial discussion about the concessions took place, reminding Hensley that it was in April.

 

“If this was motivated by the Council discussion, and we had actually acted on the discussion at that time and gone through an eight-month process, starting in April, that would of landed somewhere around December, by my count, to wind up getting something through a standard RFP process. So why couldn’t we have done that?” asked Riley.

 

Hensley said that she didn’t want to dismiss that as a possibility, but stressed her understanding was that she was to work quickly.

 

Riley said that the concession made sense at the location, but noted that there were other companies providing this same service on the lake currently, at least one of which would have been eager to provide service at the hostel if they had been given the opportunity.

 

Riley also expressed concerns that operating a paddleboard service so close to Longhorn Dam carried serious risks, which is why a similar concession was closed in 2007.

 

The Council ultimately approved the waiver in a vote of 5-2 with Riley and Mayor Lee Leffingwell voting in opposition.

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