Spinster Sisters restaurant owners buy Astro Motel in Santa Rosa

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The Astro Motel, the infamous Santa Rosa Avenue motor lodge long associated with syringe needles and condoms, is about to be reborn.

The group that financed the popular Spinster Sisters restaurant in Santa Rosa has acquired the motel and embarked on an ambitious remodel designed to bring it back to its “midcentury modern” glory. It hopes a revitalized Astro Motel will serve as a catalyst that will bring more visitors to the SOFA district, a thriving arts neighborhood that in many ways continues to be Santa Rosa’s best-kept secret.

“Everyone is so excited to see the change in the neighborhood. Everyone is really, really excited to see something be made of that space, because it’s central to downtown,” said Camile Canon, general manager of the motel.

The motel, built in 1963, is located just south of Juilliard Park on the west side of Santa Rosa Avenue and the Luther Burbank Home & Gardens. The motel is somewhat of a gateway between downtown Santa Rosa and the car-centric Santa Rosa Avenue commercial strip.

Canon said the project will draw from the motel’s origins as inspiration while modernizing its design.

“We’re sort of trying to reinterpret the motor lodge,” she said.

The project, including acquisition of the property, remodeling, fixtures and furnishings, is expected to cost no more than $10 million and open this summer, she said.

It isn’t the first remodel the motel has gotten in recent years. A previous owner, Sonny Patel, purchased the property about seven years ago and tried to turn it around. In an interview last year, Patel said his work had been hampered by city, fire safety and handicapped access building codes.

Patel had hoped to transform the motel into an upscale inn. He took down the Astro Motel sign, changed the name to Wine Country Inn & Suites, remodeled the rooms, installed metal railing on the second floor with a vineyard motif and painted the entire building a dark beige color.

But the motel never opened.

Gig Hitao, a videographer who lives and works across the street, said the motel has been going through a perpetual remodel for years. He is skeptical of the latest effort.

Jason Sakach, co-owner of the Naked Pig restaurant south of the motel, welcomes the project. While he hopes it will help turn the tide on prostitution and drug use in the area, he is wary of the possibility that the development could lead to gentrification.

Sakach noted that many of the business and arts activities that have come to define the SOFA district — short for South of A street — are independent endeavors. He hopes the project is reflective of the area’s “independently owned businesses, mostly operated by the owners.”

The 34-room motel will include two suites with small kitchenettes, said John Blackwell, assistant project manager. Part of the parking lot will be turned into a courtyard, and carports in the back of the motel will be converted into a lounge and a small bicycle service shop.

Blackwell said a broad range of tourists will be targeted, including Wine Country visitors, craft beer enthusiasts and cyclists coming to Sonoma County for popular events or weekend getaways.

The motel rooms will be priced under $200, Canon said. That target means there won’t be “all of the luxury” of a higher-priced hotel, and staffing levels will be kept small, she said.

But the new Astro Motel will be a draw because of its uniqueness, she said.

“We’re trying to break the cookie-cutter model,” she said.

Several members of the group developing the Astro Motel are continuing with plans to build a two-story, nine-unit hotel and retail space next to the Spinster Sisters restaurant, Canon said. A duplex on the site has been demolished, but construction on the new inn has not yet started.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin. espinoza@pressdemocrat.com.

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