Motel conversion sees early success

svaughan@vagazette.com

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. Desperation may be the midwife.

About two years ago, Doug Pons, knew he needed to find another way to use his Quarterpath Inn/Knights Inn property on York Street.

As he told his colleagues on City Council, he'd been operating the motel at an average occupancy rate of 25 percent for the previous five years. That's about half the occupancy that hoteliers around town say they need to get by. And, he had no financially feasible options for redeveloping the property.

To get out of the box he found himself in, Pons proposed to City Council a plan to turn about half of the motel into affordable apartment units. That would address not only his situation, but the city's need for affordable housing.

Pons, who is a second generation hotelier, said Tuesday that with 32 of the 47 units that the city authorized him to turn into apartments online, the venture seems to be working for everyone.

"All of the units online are leased and we're working now on the third building, to get up to 47," he said. "Five of those units we already have leases on."

Since leased apartment brings in more money than empty motel rooms, Pons said the change is working great for his business.

"Absolutely, it is," he said.

That success comes even though the project became much more extensive, and expensive, than he'd originally envisioned.

"When I came up with the idea, I thought 'I can knock these out myself,'" he said. "That hasn't been the case, We have to bring the buildings up to current code and, for instance, we have installed separate circuit boxes for each unit. That wasn't something that I saw going into it."

He said putting in high energy-efficiency heating and cooling holds the utility bills for residents to about $22 per month.

The upfront investment might be why no one has followed his example The city approved 100 motel-to-apartment conversions for the city as a whole. City authorization for 53 more units is still available.

"No, no one else has applied," Planning Director Carolyn Murphy confirmed Tuesday.

The Williamsburg Hotel-Motel Association, of which Pons is a part president, supported the proposal because it could give other owners of older motel properties another option for their property.

"It's not an easy undertaking," Pons said. "But it's worth it. We're doing well and our debt on the improvements is where we want it to be."

And Pons thinks is bringing a benefit to the community.

"All these people are employed," he said. "It really is workforce housing. A manager of a local restaurant is one of our tenants. Another is a bellman at a local hotel."

He said he thinks his facility fills a need.

"There is definitely a demand for affordable housing, where people can live independently rather than having to load up three or four people in a unit to make rent," he said.

Efficiency units at The Flats of Williamsburg start at $695.

"That seems to be a price that is very popular, " Pons said.

He said work is still ongoing on the public laundry room for the facility as well.

Leases are available for three, six, nine and 12 months.

Vaughan can be reached by phone at (757)345-2343.

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