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Rebirth at the Hotel Petaluma

  • Dancers practice their dance moves during dance instruction by Helen Andrade of Steppin' Out Dance Studios during a dance social in the ballroom of the Hotel Petaluma on Friday night February 28, 2014.

It's been a year since dozens of Hotel Petaluma residents, followed by the popular Taps brewpub, vacated the property while its new owner worked on turning it into a functioning hotel again.

Emotions ran high while the change was underway, with some people angrily denouncing new owner Terence Andrews and his family. Andrews had raised rents and instituted a smoking ban – and by his own account, the smoking ban was the bigger factor in driving them out.

But today, those residents have been successfully relocated, Taps has a new spot on the river and Andrews and his family are coming along in their plans to make the hotel a premier downtown Petaluma destination.

"We've gotten a lot of positive feedback from the community," said Andrews' daughter, Jessica Andrews, who runs the hotel's marketing efforts. She pointed to a recent Petaluma Area Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting, a low vacancy rate and, one month ago, a rock 'n' roll wedding with the couple getting hitched at the Phoenix Theatre across the street, then holding their reception in the hotel's ornate ballroom.

Elece Hempel, executive director of Petaluma People Services Center, or PPSC – which took the lead in relocating the more than 100 "single room occupancy" tenants at Hotel Petaluma – said some people vilified Terence Andrews during last year's move-out process.

"Of course no one likes to be removed from their housing, and there was a lot of raw nerves," she said Tuesday. But Terence Andrews was responsive to public concerns, she said, and was within his rights to change the use of the hotel.

Today, she said, the family is doing good things and should be embraced: "They actually are part of the community now."

As for the hotel's former occupants, they also are doing well, Hempel said. Some had been staying there short-term, others long-term, and some simply crashed there. The rooms – rented for as little as $200 a month – were described as small, dingy and rank with cigarette smoke.

One former tenant, Patrick Bohler, wrote: "We called the top floor the Dying Floor. Seemed one person died there every month." Bohler later moved to Arizona.

The level of squalor was debatable, but according to Hempel, "Many people that were staying at the hotel were actually not what we would consider low-income." Rather, she said, the residents represented a diverse group of people making various "lifestyle choices."

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