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Pan Am Hotel Quietly Reopens as Homeless Shelter

By Katie Honan | June 12, 2014 8:41am
 The Pan Am hotel was supposed to reopen as a luxury hostel.
The Pan Am hotel was supposed to reopen as a luxury hostel.
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Pan American Hotel

ELMHURST — The Pan Am Hotel, which was slated to reopen as an upscale hostel, was quietly turned into a homeless shelter over the past few days, angering residents and a local politician who said they weren't given any advance notice.

Residents moved into the rooms last Friday, according to the Department of Homeless Services, and there were currently 28 families staying at the Queens Boulevard space as of Wednesday.  The number of families could fluctuate, according to a source.

The shelter is being operated by Samaritan Village, which had plans to build a 125-family building for homeless families in Glendale. That plan, which is still in the works, drew fire from residents at a meeting in May.

Officials from the nonprofit did not return a call for comment.

The Pan Am, which was around for decades and once dubbed "New York's Most Convenient Hotel," was purchased in February by 7900 Development Corporation, which documents show is owned by Steven Berger.

Berger is also listed as the owner of the LaGuardia Family Center, another shelter in East Elmhurst, in Housing and Urban Development documents.

The contact number on Department of Buildings documents comes back to the East River Family Center, a Manhattan shelter.

Berger did not immediately respond to a call for comment.

A spokesman for the DHS, Chris Miller, said the city “remains committed to offering homeless families the compassion and dignity they deserve in their moment of need.”

"As the number of families with children residing in temporary, emergency shelter grows, we must consider all available options to address our capacity needs and meet our legally mandated right to shelter," he said.

The timing, and lack of information, angered residents and City Councilman Danny Dromm, who said he was informed of the move last Friday night, just before 5 p.m.

"My office and our community were given no advance notice," he said in a statement.

“Elmhurst has already had to bear a huge burden of services for the less fortunate," he said, noting the Metro Motel, another homeless shelter just down Queens Boulevard. 

Pan Am's website, which has since been taken down, advertised the seven-story, 216-room hotel as the "perfect balance" between a deluxe hotel and an affordable hostel.

"Combining the experience of what a deluxe hotel has to offer, with the pricing and room options of a hostel, we at Pan American think we have found a perfect balance when it comes to services and facilities to offered, at an affordable price," the description on the site read.

Operators who answered the hotel's number last week said they were looking to open up next month, and were waiting for their permits from the Department of Buildings. 

A woman who answered the phone at Pan Am on Tuesday said they were "all booked" and declined to say if the space would also be used as a hotel or hostel.

Roe Daraio, the president of COMET (Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together), said she and her neighbors were in "shock" and very concerned about the sudden decision.

"Nobody had input, and nobody had the chance to ask questions," she said.

Her civic group plans to hold a rally at the hotel on Tuesday, June 17 at 6 p.m.