The fastest growing hotel brand in the U.S. appears to be the recently launched Occupy chain popping up in central city locations all around the country. The room rate can’t be beat and no advance reservations required. The Occupy brand has definitely experienced unrivaled growth in the past six weeks with new U.S. properties being constructed nearly every night and simultaneously growing an international presence too. No ADR statistics probably keeps Smith Travel Research from documenting the rise of this immensely popular start-up hotel chain.
Occupy is an extremely limited-service brand. Guests should probably think of it more as a self-service brand. Just show up, and pitch in at a property near you. This is more hostel than resort and you do need to bring your own bedding.
Welcome to The Plaza at City Hall, Oakland, California
Friday, October 28 I arrived at the Plaza in downtown Oakland, California shortly after noon. I did not know what to expect when I stepped out of the BART station at 12th Street/Oakland City Center. The subway had been traveling underground since the last stop at Lake Merritt.
A sign pointed to ‘Hotel’ and I walked in that direction. My phone map showed the Marriott Hotel Oakland nearby.
The last time I was in downtown Oakland was 2004 when Kelley and I did a 5K Walk for Hope cancer fundraiser marching the streets with hundreds of others. While I signed us up for the walk as an excuse to earn 10,000 HHonors points while donating to a charitable cause, the reality for the need of cancer fundraising hit home after Kelley spent nearly all of 2009 in cancer treatment.
Kelley survived and is cancer free. Cancer treatment often costs several hundred thousand dollars. Her Kaiser Hospital insurance coverage kept our out-of-pocket expenses to just a few thousand dollars. And we are still trying to recover financially from the lost income with her nine months out of work.
Emerging into the bright daylight from underground and surrounded by tall buildings had me disoriented. There were no crowds of people in City Center; just some café patio diners and a few people sitting on benches near the fountain pool. Nothing here was familiar to me. I headed to the first street I could find. Turned out I was standing across the street from City Hall and the newly reconstructed Plaza hotel.
The Plaza hotel across from Oakland City Hall was demolished three days earlier after the city cited the property for health and safety issues. Unfortunately, while New York is the flagship Occupy property in this hot new brand, the Occupy Oakland property gained global notoriety this week when Scott Olsen, a former marine and Iraq war veteran suffered a head injury in a tragic incident on Tuesday, October 25 as guests were evicted from the condemned Plaza.
Undaunted by the setback, workers and guests were rebuilding and readying the Plaza facilities and accommodations for the anticipated influx of more weekend guests. One wing of the Plaza was kind of crowded, but there was still room to construct more rooms.
Walking around the Plaza revealed a lounge area with food. Selections included the usual hotel lounge fare of sliced breads, fruit including apples, oranges and grapes, pretzels and more.
I wondered if there would be hot items in the evening?
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are actually quite filling when you just don’t have the desire or the cash for a full restaurant meal at one of the many formal dining establishments in the immediate vicinity of the Occupy Oakland Plaza hotel.
In many respects Occupy properties are adult oriented, but The Plaza Oakland has kid-friendly activities too. A Kids Zone area in one corner of the Plaza is a no-smoking zone. The kid zone had no activity at the time I visited, but a large sign indicated the space offered arts, crafts, books and fun.
The presence of a group numbering 50 to 75 people initially attracted me to the small crowd under the oak trees. And the fact that two large California live oaks provided the primary shade available at the Plaza at 1:00pm on a cloudless mid-70s October day in Oakland.
In the shade of the trees three speakers explained basic work assignments and procedures for handling guest services and safety around the Plaza. While sometimes difficult to distinguish the front office staff from the guests, I had found my way to the administrative headquarters located beneath the large oaks. The multiethnic front staff for the Plaza exemplified a high level of organization with one woman and two males sharing presentation duties and discussing job openings at the Plaza.
The Plaza managers accepted applications from volunteers to fill work roles, primarily for the busy evening reception. There were many roles to fill like mediators, timekeepers, notekeepers, peace keepers and crowd controllers. They successfully recruited a dozen or so industrious individuals into a variety of worker roles and immediately started training the new workers to help facilitate the large number of guests expected to arrive later that evening for a general assembly conference. Some arriving guests were expected to stay the night and through the weekend, possibly even longer.
The first aid station was located between the oak trees and the semi-circular open-air convention courtyard on the steps.
Like most of my hotel reviews I did find some unsatisfactory aspects of the Oakland Plaza hotel. My main complaint while walking around the physical facilities of the Plaza was the lack of toilets to accommodate the needs of the large number of guests the Plaza accommodates in peak periods. I was told by one residential guest there were toilets at the Oakland Plaza hotel last week, but all the toilets were removed Tuesday, October 26 by city public service workers hours after the original Plaza hotel was condemned and demolished.
I read today that teachers from the Oakland Education Association assisted with the return of nine toilets to the Plaza yesterday. While appearing too late for my stay, that sanitation improvement alone definitely earns the Oakland Plaza hotel an extra star in its lodging rating.
Like many fine hotels, the Oakland Plaza library has dozens of books available for guest check-out. When tired of all the oral encounters occupying your hours, you can lose yourself in written words just in case you are unable to sleep the night away.
I expected far more music than I heard during my stay at the Plaza. In fact, there did not seem to be a whole lot happening and I was thinking about checking out the Marriott Hotel. Then I stopped to listen to a public speaker engaging an audience with an intellectual discourse on current conditions and the U.S. economy.
The small crowd politely listened as he spoke knowledgeably on current affairs for 30 minutes or so.
Sitting on the steps in the mid-day sun gave me the opportunity to listen in on multiple conversations. Like many new hotels the Plaza had its media and camera shutter bugs hanging out looking for some celebrity guest to film. I happened to be seated in a great location. One camera crew set up right in front of me and interviewed a disgruntled guest who had a bad experience at the Plaza earlier in the week. His arm was in a cast. Apparently he was another casualty of the Plaza hotel closure Tuesday. He shared his story with several media journalists.
While the stay might be free for some guests, other guests at Occupy Oakland pay huge incidental fees for expenses like hospital treatment, bail and the potential loss of job.
I heard this guy’s description of the Santa Rita jail setting a couple of times and the thumbs down image chilled me on experiencing those downgraded Dublin city accommodations. I’ll try and stick with Hyatt Place Dublin when traveling in the East Bay I-580/I-680 corridors. Although I do recall discussion about the possibility of opening an Occupy hotel property in Walnut Creek.
I was sitting and talking to another extended stay guest of the Plaza and she was telling me about her life troubles with things like how she lost her job a few years ago due to injury and her disability checks are getting smaller while food gets more expensive. She says she used to weigh 20 pounds more. Her friends now give her food since she obviously is losing weight in their eyes.
Suddenly there was a commotion as a big guy came walking through the Plaza surrounded by camera flashes, applause and fanfare.
This guy in front of Oakland City Hall was totally mobbed by a flash crowd. People standing all around began chanting “Give the man some space. Media sit down!” over and over for a couple of minutes before media actually sat down to let the man be seen and speak.
Someone even set up a microphone and amplifier so he could be clearly heard by the crowd that was probably over 1,000 by the time he spoke to the Plaza guests for about 45 minutes. People seemed to like what he had to say considering the number of times there was applause.
At one point during his talk there was an explosive bang somewhere off the Plaza that caught everyone’s attention. Guns and grenades are sounds heard too often in these parts. The speaker commented on how little the crowd reacted to the sound.
Someone in the crowd yelled out, “Welcome to Oakland!”
Someone in the crowd asked the guy if he could get Michael Moore to make a film of what was happening. He responded Michael Moore wasn’t necessary since there were already tens of thousands of documentarians working on the history of Occupy. Apparently the guy speaking had Hollywood connections, although you wouldn’t know it by the way he was dressed in shorts, t-shirt and hoodie as he addressed the crowd.
Then again, I was dressed in a similar way as a guest at the Oakland Plaza Friday. But without the hoodie.
And while I enjoyed my stay, I didn’t spend the night at the Plaza either.
Apparently this start-up Occupy chain is not well funded by Wall Street or a lucrative IPO.
Here is a musical selection I think fits well with my stay at the Oakland Plaza.
“How’s that bricklayin’ coming?
How’s your engine running?
Is that bridge getting built?
Are your hands getting filled?
Won’t you tell me my brother
Cause there are stars, up above
We can start, moving forward”