Sonoma County hotel sector expands despite coronavirus and wildfires

Despite the pandemic and a spate of wildfires, Sonoma County’s lodging sector has generated notable expansion, with another Santa Rosa hotel opening presenting the latest example.

La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham Santa Rosa Sonoma started welcoming an increasing number of overnight guests after Labor Day to the four-story, 100-room property.

“I believe wholeheartedly in Santa Rosa and the resiliency of Santa Rosa in the face of pandemic and fires,” said Andrew Firestone, principal of Stone Park Capital in Santa Barbara, the project developer on Commercial Court.

The limited-service La Quinta with a pool has targeted a daily rate of $150, looking to capture visitors who do not need all the amenities of a full-service property, but want more than budget hotels offer.

“I’ve always wanted our hotels to be a springboard to the region,” said Firestone, whose company oversees five hotels statewide. “There’s so much to do whether you are wine tasting, mountain biking or going down the Russian River.”

The hotel follows the August openings of 132-room Cambria Sonoma hotel in Rohnert Park and the 142-room AC Marriott Hotel in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square. The Montage Healdsburg, a 130-room, ultra-luxury project, is slated to open in late November, while the Courtyard Marriott in Petaluma’s Riverfront should take first guests in early 2021.

The county’s hotel occupancy rate has been around 60% to 65% during the coronavirus pandemic, a reasonably good level compared to other tourist destinations, said Claudia Vecchio, president and CEO of Sonoma County Tourism.

“It’s pretty good comparatively against other destinations, certainly in California and around the country,” Vecchio said, noting the plethora of outdoor activities that still draw visitors. “We’re in a really good place when it comes to the kinds of experiences we offer and what people are looking for during COVID.”

The recent openings also have helped make up the loss of about 400 hotel rooms as a result of the Tubbs fire when three Santa Rosa hotels were destroyed in the 2017 blaze. That loss represented about 20% of the overall room supply in Santa Rosa at the time.

Meanwhile, other Santa Rosa hotels are going through renovations to lure guests. Those include the Motel 6 Santa Rosa and the Hotel La Rose. The Flamingo Resort started a major upgrade before COVID-19 arrived, but has scaled back due to funding limits, according to the North Bay Business Journal.

“You go through a renovation and reinvent yourself and become much more desirable,” said Brad Calkins, executive director of Visit Santa Rosa, the city’s tourist marketing agency.

There’s been talk of other ventures, such as a proposal to build a pair of large hotels near Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport.

But Firestone expects those projects on paper to provide the developers with struggles of financing and economic uncertainty during the lingering contagion.

“I think this probably gives people a bit of a pause in terms of ’Let’s see how things shake out,’ ” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or [email protected] On Twitter @BillSwindell.

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