Save the Hostel!: A Briefing with Cat McCarthy

Qween City sat down with burlesque performer/local artist/Hostel Buffalo-Niagara employee Cat McCarthy to talk about the hostel’s current fight to stay in their downtown location.

Photo by Jon Piret.

Tell us why the hostel needs community support right now?

The city of Buffalo, specifically the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency (BURA), owns our building and put it up for sale as of February 1. The main issue is that the back building attached to us has fallen into negligent disrepair. The city invested over 1 million dollars of taxpayer money 20 years ago into the hostel half of the building but allowed the back to lay stagnant. We have maintained and continued to improve the hostel portion of the building. Now as the back crumbles into the front of the building, big developers await to buy and transform us into bourgeoisie loft apartments and expensive restaurants. Submissions for developer proposals were due on March 15. Twenty-seven hostel supporters marched from the hostel to City Hall in a bitter cold snowstorm to deliver our proposal. There aren’t any hostels in the area and it is not pragmatic for us to relocate. Where else will people go?

Photo by Jon Piret. “These school kids are from a school in Ithaca and biked here.”

How does the hostel support the community?

The Hostel Buffalo-Niagara is a successful not-for-profit that has been in the community for over 20 years. We provide communal low-priced lodging for travelers from around the world. Many of these travelers are students, community activists (like Habitat for Humanity volunteers or Girl Scouts), artists, musicians, entire families, and all facets of cultural diversity. We also host myriad events including bike breakfasts, shows by touring and local bands, theatrical performances, art exhibits in The Box Gallery, senior thesis shows, and our walls are covered in murals from local artists. We are also the home for Buffalo Food Not Bombs and serve as a meeting place for the group Waste Not Want Not, a food waste prevention crew that distributes to the community and did a huge dinner celebrating Indigenous people. We have worked closely with Go Bike Buffalo, Squeaky Wheel, The WASH Project, Dreamland, the Buffalo Infringement Festival, Verve Dance, DOPE Collective, Buffalo Place, and are a valuable part of Curtain Up! Our home is in the heart of the theatre district and we need to stay there.

What do you think the hostel can do for New Buffalo?

“New Buffalo” does not need gentrification, we cannot colonize the poor, and make it inaccessible for travelers on a budget. If Buffalo wants to remain a viable international city we need to keep and improve the hostel. Many people are coming to see Niagara Falls, a wonder of the world that is just a $2 bus ride away from us. These people fall in love with Buffalo because we are able to connect them to all of the cool secrets and amazing under-the-radar spaces that our beloved city holds. Our central location is important. The staff genuinely cares, we’re all artists and activists and are Buffalonians who have grown up here and have gone to school here. We are committed to this community and care about our guests in a personal way that a boutique hotel could never compare. We bring youth, color, heart, and diversity to this neighborhood.

What is one of the most significant memories you can recall of the hostel?

There are so many. Every Saturday cooking with Food Not Bombs and serving a free vegan meal to the community is pretty magical. My personal favorite moment was probably learning how to salsa dance with a Columbian clown/acrobat who did not speak English. Playing board games and ping pong, cooking, talking world politics, painting a mural, or just showing a confused teenager how to use our VHS player have been highlights. Most recently, I received a call from a woman who was considering moving to Buffalo and she had a few questions. It turned out that she is a transgender woman of color who currently lives in the south. A few days later, she called back to extend her stay because she is just going to move here. No hotel would be able to connect someone with a new home like that. I am proud to be a Buffalo ambassador. This is my community, these are my friends, and I will do anything to help people feel welcome and safe here.

What can we do to help?

The clock is ticking! They can make their decision any day!

We proposed that the city sell us the property for $1 and we can raise the funds to renovate. We proposed that we keep the hostel where it is and use the back space to expand our mission and provide affordable long-term stay units for doctors doing rounds, students, resident artists, theatre companies, and so forth. Among the many ideas we have, we will only use this space for good. People depend on us. No private business developer will profit from our proposal, only the community. We are a building block of the New Buffalo Renaissance. Let us be in charge of our own destiny.

People can contact the following to voice your support of the hostel: Brendan Mehaffy (Head of the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Planning; please ask him to keep the hostel in high regards when reviewing the proposals) and Mayor Byron Brown by sending letters/postcards and by making phone calls saying how much you love the hostel. You can also write a letter to the editor of The Buffalo News. Awareness is key!

Photo by Sarah Jane Barry.

Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Planning:

Brendan R. Mehaffy
901 City Hall
Buffalo NY 14202
Phone: (716) 851-4769
Email: [email protected]

Executive Director of BURA:

Nona Watson
Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency
65 Niagara Sq, Room 920 City Hall
Buffalo, 14202
Phone: (716) 851-2872
E-mail: [email protected]

Ellicott District Common Council Member:

Hon. Darius G. Pridgen – Council President
1315 City Hall, Buffalo NY 14202
Phone: 716-851-4980
Email: [email protected]

Mayor Byron W. Brown

Office of Mayor Byron W. Brown
65 Niagara Square; Room 201
Buffalo, NY 14202
Phone: (716) 851-4841
Email: [email protected]

Send letters or postcards to editor of The Buffalo News.

Donate to the GoFundMe. Anything helps.

Follow us on Facebook, attend all of the upcoming hostel events and invite your friends, or contact us for a “WE LOVE OUR HOSTEL” sign that you can put in your window.

Any photos or videos from past events or new ones can be shared with the current hashtags #savethehostel #hostelbuffalo.