From weary travellers to weary students.
Ashwani and Suroj Nagpal, owners of the West End’s venerable India Palace, recently announced the purchase of the former Downtowner motel with plans to convert the three-story Ellice Avenue building into housing for international and out-of-town students.
"Students need this," Suroj Nagpal said in an interview last week.
Last summer, the Forks-North Portage Partnership put the building, which housed Hostelling International’s only Manitoba location and popular student bar and local music venue the Lo Pub, up for sale after the hostel failed to generate enough income to stay afloat.
The Nagpals say they purchased the building on experience and demand: both their son and daughter had difficulty finding student housing while studying medicine in Budapest, and they have recently been asked by friends to house out-of-town students unable to find affordable housing.
The two anticipate attracting University of Winnipeg and Red River College students, both of which have ambitiously expanded in the downtown area.
"The university is doing a great job bringing students to the area," Ashwani Nagpal said.
The couple finalized a six-month deal to purchase the space for $2.2 million last November.
They plan to spend $500,000 on interior renovations and hope to reopen the building in March.
The upper two floors will be turned into 40 dorm rooms, each with private washrooms and showers, which will house two to three students each. About eight to 10 of those suites will be larger VIP suites for students with visiting families, the Nagpals said.
On the main floor, the former Lo Pub is being converted into a new, licensed lounge. The Nagpals, who live in Linden Woods, also plan to open a 70-seat restaurant for the community and a cafeteria for students.
Students will be provided a meal plan that includes breakfast and dinner, they said, adding around 15 staff will be hired.
The University of Winnipeg, which operates three buildings and four homes on Balmoral Street for student housing, said it’s happy to hear of more being built downtown.
Most recently, the university opened McFeetors Hall in 2009, an $18-million housing complex on Langside Street with 176 dorm rooms and 25 apartments for families.
"We’ve seen lots of improvements," said Sherri Pchajek, manager of campus living for the University of Winnipeg Community Renewal Corporation.
"It’s exciting to hear there is more housing being developed. It can only help with the need that’s already out there."
The university has about 560 international students, and around 40% of its students in residence are international, Pchajek said.
Pchajek hopes the housing is kept affordable.
"Generally our students aren’t well off," she said.
"We have a real mix of students, but our hope is that the rents for these units will match what’s currently happening in the area."