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Santa Rosa’s Flamingo Resort scales back renovation because of coronavirus economy

Hotel investor Stephen Yang and his partners have been working on renovating the Flamingo Resort since acquiring the landmark Santa Rosa property in January 2019. But like other hotel projects in the North Bay area, the coronavirus outbreak has disrupted progress on the $20 million project.

Built in 1957, the Flamingo Hotel was designed by architect George Bernard Russell, the same architect as the original Las Vegas Flamingo, according to the Flamingo’s website. In its heyday, the hotel drew celebrities and wealthy world travelers to its oversized pool and courtyard. In 1996, the city of Santa Rosa declared the hotel a historical landmark.

Now, work on the property’s renovations is back on track, as Sonoma County’s hotels have been cleared to reopen as of June 19. It’s welcome news for Yang, who, with wife Rebecca, owns Yang Capital and Point Hospitality Group, the latter which oversees daily operations of the 10,000-acre property that has 170 rooms and 13,000 square feet of meeting space.

Sonoma County has vacillated, however, about when it will lift restrictions on pools, which has been a source of frustration for Yang, who is big on making the pool area the centerpiece of his hotels.

“Last weekend, we opened up our lap pool, and then they said on June 19 they’re going to open up all pools. And now they retracted that and said ‘no, that’s indefinite now,” said Yang, whose parents are scientists. “Chlorine kills the virus.”

When Yang took over and renovated The Sandman in Santa Rosa three years ago, he added a pool house bar to the hotel’s existing pool. He’s maximizing the concept at the Flamingo, whose huge pool has been a draw throughout its existence.

Yang acquired the Flamingo from Pierre Ehret, whose family has owned the Flamingo for over 40 years. Ehret has retained a majority interest in the property. He declined to discuss details about the transaction, citing confidentiality.

“On a personal level it was time to move on, since I ran basically a one-man show,” Ehret said in an email. “I will spend more time in my home country, Germany.”

Also on the Flamingo renovation team are restaurateurs Anderson Pugash and Benson Wang, owners of Serious Leisure, which operates five restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Flamingo project involves a phased renovation of the guest rooms, event spaces and common areas, along with a new restaurant concept, Pugash said. On June 10, the hotel introduced an interim popup restaurant, called Wild Bird, which he described as “very takeout friendly.” The restaurant is open Wednesday through Sunday.

“Also, one of the things we're fortunate to have is so much space in our inner courtyard, so we can do poolside dining,” he said. “We've got a tiki bar set up and a beer garden that we'll be putting in toward the end of summer.” Pugash noted that although COVID-19 caused some delays, the renovation process has been phased from the beginning, and he anticipates most of the work will be done by early next year.

The pandemic, however, has forced some changes in plans — not in a way that Yang would have preferred.

“The bank isn't funding what they said they were going to fund pre-COVID, so we’re cutting short a lot of the renovations,” Yang said.

They are currently working on the new lobby, meeting rooms, restaurant and pool experience.

“We're trying to use all the money that we have to do as much in the guest rooms as we can, but we're not able to do our full-model room renovation that we were planning to do,” Yang said.

Ehret is hopeful about the Sonoma County property he shepherded for so many years while the region’s developed its plumage as a tourist destination.

“Despite corona, I am very optimistic in regards to the future of the Flamingo due to all the resort amenities it has to offer,” Ehret said. “Consumers will be hesitant to fly or travel long distances, so for everyone in Northern California, the Flamingo is a great vacation spot in the wine country with only a short drive.”

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