The owners of the old Travelodge in downtown Santa Rosa are transforming the property into a "boutique hotel," the latest in a series of projects underway across Sonoma County to upgrade and expand the region's network of hotels.

Now renamed Hotel Azura, the makeover of the 44-room facility on Healdsburg Avenue is aimed at attracting leisure and business travelers who want in-room espresso machines, extra plump mattresses and name brand bath products.

"I think Santa Rosa needs something like this," manager Nick Patel said.

Hotel Azura stopped being a Travelodge in 2012, he said. The renovation project began within the last year and the hotel is slated to open soon.

The new rooms feature high-end bedding, windows with wooden Hunter Douglas shades, illy Francis Francis espresso machines and Neil George bath and body products.

Still planned is the replacement of the hotel's former pool with a Jacuzzi and lounge area, said Anil Patel, one of the owners. He also has hotels in San Rafael and San Francisco.

The project comes at a time when Sonoma County's hotel industry is enjoying strong business and making plans to significantly add rooms.

Hotel companies have applied to build more than 1,400 rooms in 22 new and expansion projects around the county, according to a February report by Sonoma County Tourism and the county's Economic Development Board.

"Absolutely there's more activity than normal," said Ken Fischang, CEO of the tourism group.

In the aftermath of the recession, the hotel industry saw little new construction, Fischang said. But tourism has rebounded, and members of his board tell him that the start of the year was their best first quarter in history.

The county has 11,000 lodging rooms, including bed-and-breakfast inns and vacation rentals. Of that number, about 6,500 rooms belong to hotels with space to rent for meetings, weddings or other group events.

County hotel occupancy rates for the first quarter rose to 64.4 percent from 60.4 percent a year earlier, according to STR, formerly Smith Travel Research. The average daily room rate increased 11.5 percent to $109.97.

County hotel revenues reached $38.7 million for the quarter, an increase of 18.3 percent from a year earlier. Even when adjusted for inflation, revenues are greater than for the same period in 2007, a time before the last recession officially began.