Marriott hotel rises block by block in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square district

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Jeff Blackman was struck by the sight of a massive yellow crane looming above Highway 101 this week, stacking dozens of boxy hotel rooms five stories. The president of the company building a 142-room hotel in Santa Rosa, Blackman had flown in direct from Dallas and was initially puzzled while driving south from Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport.

Then, as he approached the city’s Railroad Square district Monday, it hit him.

“Oh my gosh,” he recalled thinking. “That’s ours!”

Blackman’s Bedford Lodging company is building an AC Hotel by Marriott at Fifth and Davis streets, replacing a parking lot with an artsy hotel that’s expected to restore about one-third of the hotel rooms Santa Rosa lost in the 2017 fires when it opens in early 2020.

The construction project has been a spectacle for most bystanders and passing motorists on Highway 101.

It is taking shape this week, story by story, as the crane hoists giant plastic-wrapped, wood-framed, glass-walled rooms through the air and stacks them side by side and one atop another.

The prefabricated, module-based design offers look into the future of construction, with a speedier timeline that favors a disaster-scarred region where rooms are needed quickly and workers needed to build them are scarce.

The 70-foot-long two-room modules for the hotel have been arriving from a Boise factory at a staging site near the downtown train depot for weeks as crews have been finishing the concrete first floor.

The crane set the first few modules in place last week, and installation began in earnest Tuesday, working toward the goal of stacking 86 modules for the five-story, 142-room hotel over three weeks, according to project officials.

Blackman said shipping and stacking the units is faster than building them on site. It also keeps the company out of the local subcontracting market, which has grown busier and more expensive since the fires.

The ability to shave three to four months off the hotel’s construction time is worth the unique logistical challenges that come with shipping dozens of large modules more than 600 miles across the western U.S.

“Transporting the units from Boise on a tractor trailer has a fair amount of risk,” Blackman said. “Luckily, we haven’t had any issues to date.”

David Guhin, assistant city manager, emphasized the need to quickly replace 400 rooms lost when the Fountaingrove Inn and Hilton hotels burned in the Tubbs fire of 2017.

“That’s a quarter of our hotel stock,” Guhin said Tuesday to a couple dozen project representatives as well as developers and project financiers from around the country gathered across the street from the project site to watch some of the first modules move into place.

Hotels have played a critical role in emergency response, from housing first responders and fire survivors, to accommodating visitors and local business travel, Guhin said.

“We have over 2,000 homes in the rebuild process with the fires,” he said. “That’s a lot of strain on our local resources, materials and also labor.”

After the building is “fully stacked,” Blackman said, work can start on the interior and the lobby, which will occupy the first floor along with a restaurant, a bar and about 11,000 square feet of retail space. He said the Marriott is likely to open in February.

“We’re really excited about it,” he said. “It’s nice to see it go vertical.”

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