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Santa Rosa hotel projects replace rooms at lodging properties destroyed in 2017 fires

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The signs of a hotel boom in Santa Rosa are unmistakable, especially if you take a short drive along Highway 101.

Close to downtown, the five-story AC Hotel by Marriott sprouted up quickly this summer near Railroad Square thanks to prefabricated room construction. Crews hoisted the modules and then stacked them in an effort to build the lodging property faster. The hotel will have 142 rooms and is slated to open next spring.

About a mile and a half south along the highway, construction is underway on a La Quinta by Wyndham. The 100-room hotel also is expected to open next spring, said Andrew Firestone, principal at Stone Park Capital in Santa Barbara, the developer of the project on Commercial Court.

“There is a quite a bit of new (hotel) inventory coming in and that’s a good thing for Santa Rosa and the community,” Firestone said. “I’m excited about downtown Santa Rosa and what’s there, from enjoying Russian River Brewing and all other sorts of things.”

The La Quinta and Marriott hotel projects represent more than additional lodging and temporary construction jobs for Santa Rosa. The two properties, along with the first section of the Hotel E that opened in July in a 111-year-old beaux-arts structure on Old Courthouse Square, mark a milestone. When all three are completed next year, there will be slightly more than 2,000 hotel rooms in the city, roughly equal to the number before the October 2017 Tubbs fire wiped out 412 rooms.

“Many of these (projects) were in the pipeline or in the beginning discussion stage before the fires,” said Brad Calkins, executive director of Visit Santa Rosa, the nonprofit agency tasked with marketing the city as a tourist destination. “It’s good to see them all come together.”

Besides more rooms to accommodate tourists and permanent jobs at the hotels, the new properties will boost the city’s lodging tax revenue. After the fires, the tax collected from hotel and motel guest stays declined from $6.05 million in 2017 to $5.65 million last year, according to city records.

The additional hotel rooms also could indirectly help the city’s desperate need for affordable housing, Santa Rosa City Council member Chris Rogers said. He’s heard that more local homeowners with extra rooms have been using Airbnb to rent those rooms for one-night or weekend visitors because there’s been a dearth of hotel rooms in the city.

With hundreds more hotel rooms coming, Santa Rosa homeowners instead could opt to rent rooms or granny units to local residents for up to a year at a time.

“I do kind of wonder if you have 400 new hotel rooms, if demand will still be the same” for city property owners who rent short-term rooms via Airbnb, Rogers said.

Beyond 2020, more hotel building in the city is in the pipeline. The City Council in July approved construction of a Residence Inn by Marriott in the Fountaingrove neighborhood, which will add 114 more rooms to the area.

In addition, Calkins said he has not heard anything definitive whether the owners of three Santa Rosa hotel properties destroyed in the Tubbs fire eventually plan to rebuild: the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country and the Fountaingrove Inn — both previously in Fountaingrove — and America’s Best Value Inn and Suites on Hopper Avenue.

Nevertheless, Firestone, the La Quinta developer, said he hopes to attract an array of tourists to his new hotel with its location right off Highway 101. They include vacationing families, to business travelers, to those visiting for a Wine Country wedding. Some rooms will be designed to host a family of five.

Overnight rates will be about $150, which will be affordable in a county that has catered to some degree to luxury hotel rooms, especially in Healdsburg. The La Quinta will have a pool, but no dining options. There are, however, many places to eat nearby.

“We are trying to cast as wide of a net as possible,” he said. “Our hotel should be a launch point for an adventure in Santa Rosa.”

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.

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