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Thinking about investing in a motel?

Have an overnight stay: Visit the motel, and see what it is like to stay overnight. A lack of quality in certain areas can argue for a lower purchase price.

Location: The location of a motel can have a huge impact on its future performance. Keep these ideas in mind:

Visibility: Is the motel easily visible from the street or highway? Is it easy to get to?

Nearby attractions: How close is the motel to airports, amusement parks, tourist attractions, concert venues, conference centers, entertainment, dining, malls, and corporate headquarters?

Market conditions: Is the population growing? Are new attractions such as sports stadiums, conference centers or corporate offices under development?

Competition: How many other motels are nearby? Do research on these motels. Try to get an idea of their room rate, occupancy, and reputation.

Barriers to entry: Is there anything stopping future competition? Some barriers to entry can include lack of reasonably priced land and lack of hospitality-zoned land.

Source: U.S. Small Business Administration

It used to be commonplace for weary vacationers to pull off the highway late at night and have no trouble spotting a comfortable motor lodge where they could get a good night’s rest at a reasonable price.

It was a convenient, easy way to travel. But as the decades passed, road trippers began to shift their attention and dollars from motor lodges with the brightly lit “vacancy” sign to emerging hotel chains and luxury resorts.

In 1964, motor lodges — or small motels — were ubiquitous, with approximately 61,000 of such properties scattered across the country, according to “No Vacancy: The Rise, Demise and Reprise of America’s Motels” by Mark Okrant. As of 2012, that number had fallen to about 16,000 operating motels.

Now, historians are signifying a desire to reclaim “something of the motel spirit not yet entirely lost,” according to the Smithsonian.com, as reported on the website of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. That spirit is evidenced in several states throughout the country, including Texas, Louisiana, Wyoming, Florida, New York and California, as reported last week in USA Today.

In the North Bay, three motor lodges have reemerged with a new look that blends nostalgia with the modern age.

The Astro Motel

It was in 1963 when The Astro Motel popped up along Santa Rosa Avenue in a neighborhood known today as SOFA, or the South A Street Art District.

Over the years, the neighborhood declined, as did the property. Efforts to revive The Astro proved unsuccessful until 2016, when Santa Rosa-based Spinster Hospitality bought the property with the intention of preserving its history, but with a fresh spin.

“Our take on the motor lodge is actually to take away the parking lot and make it this beautiful lush courtyard instead, so it can be more for people to sit and enjoy and interact,” said Liza Hinman, who, along with Santa Rosa native Eric Anderson, own Spinster Hospitality. Indeed, on-site parking is limited, with additional parking spaces nearby.

The pair also made The Astro a haven for bike enthusiasts by working closely with Andy Hampsten, a Giro d’Italia cycling champion who has a minor investment in the company. The Astro has Shinola bikes on-site for rental, with staff who can assemble and make basic repairs.

Spinster Hospitality made a $10 million investment in the 34-room motel, consisting of the purchase price, construction, furnishings, and the entire permitting process for reopening the motel, Hinman said. She declined to disclose the purchase price, but said the construction aspect alone was $5 million.

“The south wing was taken down to the studs,” Hinman said. “There was a lot of dry rot and abuse over the years.” The other side of the property had been mostly renovated by the previous owner, so work consisted mainly of cosmetic improvements, she said.

Although the former owner was unable to revive the property, he already had open construction permits from the city, which sped up the renovation process, allowing the partners to more quickly get to work on modernizing the motor lodge, Hinman said.

“We have a real appreciation of simple and modern design that’s comfortable but a little bit cheeky at the same time, and has a little bit of fun,” Hinman said. “We also are really big into respecting and reusing buildings that already exist, rather than new construction.”

Thinking about investing in a motel?

Have an overnight stay: Visit the motel, and see what it is like to stay overnight. A lack of quality in certain areas can argue for a lower purchase price.

Location: The location of a motel can have a huge impact on its future performance. Keep these ideas in mind:

Visibility: Is the motel easily visible from the street or highway? Is it easy to get to?

Nearby attractions: How close is the motel to airports, amusement parks, tourist attractions, concert venues, conference centers, entertainment, dining, malls, and corporate headquarters?

Market conditions: Is the population growing? Are new attractions such as sports stadiums, conference centers or corporate offices under development?

Competition: How many other motels are nearby? Do research on these motels. Try to get an idea of their room rate, occupancy, and reputation.

Barriers to entry: Is there anything stopping future competition? Some barriers to entry can include lack of reasonably priced land and lack of hospitality-zoned land.

Source: U.S. Small Business Administration

The refashioned Astro Motel had its soft opening in late October and officially opened on Jan. 18.

Pricing ranges from $179 to $265 per night, with a lower price point in the off-season. Each room has original mid-century furniture, fixtures and artwork — all available for sale, Hinman said. Local designers were contracted for everything from the color scheme and bathroom tiles, to the bedspreads, headboards and cast concrete sinks. Each room has an Honor Bar filled with snacks and drinks from Sonoma County makers.

Although it’s too soon to calculate revenues, Hinman said Spinster Hospitality is forecast to achieve profitability within two to three years.

Weekday occupancy has been averaging 50 percent to 60 percent, with most weekends selling out, she said. Clientele includes adventure-seeking tourists, girlfriends’ getaways and business travelers.

“That’s a segment we’re really happy to get into,” Hinman said. “We’ve found a lot of (business travelers) have been very excited about our price point and the value that we offer at that price point.”

The Sandman

Business travelers also have been checking in to The Sandman in Santa Rosa. The motor lodge chain’s Cleveland Avenue property, with its easy freeway access, has survived throughout the years, but needed an infusion of new life, according to Lauren Bodsworth, general manager. That happened three years ago when Yang Investment Partners purchased the property for $5 million and brought on Point Hospitality Group to manage it.

Renovations for The Sandman began in November 2017 and was completed seven months later, she said, adding that improvements are ongoing.

“This year, we’re putting in about another $500,000,” Bodsworth said, with work that includes painting the buildings to a uniform color, expanding the lawn area by the pool, and possibly adding a fire pit, seating and a bocce ball court.

The most significant undertaking in The Sandman’s transformation was turning the pool area into the hub of the property, she said.

“When the team started coming up with a concept, it was clear the pool was going to be the main attraction, where guests could hang out,” Bodsworth said. The former poolside breakfast room is now a hip poolside bar with a menu of inspired cocktails, like the frozen-slushie Frosé and blood-orange margaritas, she said.

Seeing its poolside bar strategy paying off, The Sandman’s management team has launched a “Summer Nights series,” consisting of three Friday night events featuring local bands, a food truck, and cocktails and drinks, Bodsworth said.

“We’re trying to reach a different demographic in the area, trying to show that motor lodges are fun places to come by,” Bodsworth said, along with the continued benefit of appealing to the nostalgic set that remembers staying at the 45-year-old lodge during their childhood.

Bodsworth said The Sandman is attracting the millennial age group, who frequently drive up from Silicon Valley or San Francisco for the weekend, as well as couples who come to visit Sonoma County’s breweries and wineries.

The Sandman’s property has 135 rooms, including five that are pet-friendly and one family suite complete with a bunk bed and board games. Prices range between $129 to $259 per night, depending on the room type and time of year.

Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa

When the Calistoga Hotel Group purchased the Sunburst Hotel in January 2015, its strategy was to refresh, rename and reclaim the property’s 1940s roadside motel roots, according to Stephen Chan, one of four principals at Filament Hospitality, which manages the 50-room property.

Situated at the northern end of the Silverado Trail, the Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa underwent a yearlong renovation that started in mid-2016.

Chan described the renovated motor lodge as having a retro vibe in the spirit of the American road trip.

Although he declined to disclose the purchase price, he did say the reinvented property is “generating positive cash flow.”

The redesigned rooms are modern interpretations of mid-century motor lodges, he said, with warm colors and accents that include vintage-inspired fabrics, quirky retro art and camper van-style bench seating that can be converted into a double bed.

“We’re very much connected to our origin and roots,” Chan said. “We’re a quintessential getaway for those who want to escape the urban environment.”

Key to the relaunch was the rebirth of the property’s long-abandoned building that once housed a spa, now known as MoonAcre Spa and Baths, Chan said. The spa is open both to guests and the general public.

“It’s a phenomenal spa that has seven treatment rooms, a steam room, and communal-style bathtubs,” Chan said, adding there also is a mix-your-own mud bar, as well as a spa garden that overlooks the mountains and the rest of the valley. “It’s different than most traditional spas you’ll come across in the valley.”

The challenge with the spa, Chan said, is getting the word out about its existence and variety of offerings because it’s tucked away on the property.

“It’s a great spa but a lot of people don’t know about it,” he said. To combat the problem, the owners are investing “a sizeable” amount of money into marketing this year. The team also is actively expanding its social media presence and in the next few weeks will launch a new website, he said.

Also on tap for this year is a new restaurant called Fleetwood, which integrates an open, wood-fired kitchen and beer garden, along with outdoor picnic tables and fire pits.

Like The Astro Motel and The Sandman, the Calistoga Motor Lodge & Spa is seeing a mix of clientele coming from the Bay Area, Chan said.

Room rates range from $209 to $429 per night.

Contact Cheryl Sarfaty at cheryl.sarfaty@busjrnl.com.