(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story had a incorrect byline.)
SANTA ROSA — More than 100 representatives from many of the 149 nonprofit and faith-based agencies served by the Redwood Empire Food Bank were given an advance preview of the new headquarters building and food distribution hub on April 17.
This facility, located at 3990 Brickway in the Santa Rosa Airport Business Center, will officially open in January following an internal makeover.
Jackson Liles Architecture of San Francisco, with extensive experience in the nonprofit and warehousing sector, designed the new interior. They recently completed work on the Chinatown YMCA and the Produce Mart.
Wright Construction is the general contractor. All subcontractors will be local firms.
With 60,410 square feet of usable space, this site behind the Medtronic building just off Airport Boulevard, more than triples the existing 20,000 square foot building at 3320 Industrial Drive that has been the food bank’s headquarters for 14 years. Prior to 1998 the food bank was located in a storefront on Petaluma Hill Boulevard.
“Seven years ago we looked at the increasing need for food assistance and realized that demand was rapidly outgrowing our capacity, requiring us to lease three additional warehouse spaces,” said David Goodman, executive director of the Redwood Empire Food Bank. “We got a very good deal on the new property.”
The food bank acquired the new building for $5 million six months ago from the Ronald L. Profili real estate investment group in Napa.
This purchase will enable the nonprofit to save more than $19 million in lease costs over the next 25 years – an expense that would have prevented it from serving an additional 41 million meals during the same period.
“It came down to a long-term decision between continuing to pay rent or enhancing our ability to reach more people.
“Cost savings associated with retrofitting an existing facility, versus building a new one, were estimated to be $2 million, ”Mr. Goodman said.
Today the food bank serves 78,000 people each month, a figure that rises each year. Some 13.5 million pounds of food, worth an estimated $20 million, are donated and purchased annually.
Some 75 percent of food received is distributed directly by the Redwood Empire Food Bank, with the rest channeled through local food pantries, churches and community organizations.
“We are part of a national organization called Feeding America comprised of 200 food banks throughout the county. We rank 17th in the U.S. when it comes to the amount of food distributed per square foot.”
The food bank has an operating budget of $5 million a year and a staff of 33 employees supplemented by volunteers and local agency support.
The capital campaign began in 2007 and to date the food bank has raised $7.43 million toward the total project cost of $11.2 million, including tenant improvements.
“People ask me why are we moving 4.5 miles north to the airport center? We couldn’t find a 60,000 square foot warehouse near the intersection of Highways 12 and 101. A food bank requires very specific elements, such as a very large freezer/cooler, multiple loading docks, high ceilings, ample parking and freeway access. All of these elements are not easy to find in Sonoma County.”
The new location is not just a shell, it comes with 18,000 square feet of existing office space for the administrative staff and those managing 14 separate programs, such as the Center on Hunger and Nutrition. Eleven of these programs were created in just the last nine years.
It also has a high capacity power system capable of handling present and future electrical needs. There will be a total of five loading docks and plenty of parking and maneuvering space for delivery vehicles.
When the retrofit is completed, the building will have a 5,000 square foot freezer/cooler with capacity to hold 22 semi-tractor trailer loads of food. There will be a full kitchen preparing meals for a café and also used to cater events and meetings at a community room with capacity for up to 75 people.
There will be two Volunteer Action Centers where company, community groups and individuals will pack food boxes for distribution, and a nonprofit grocery (Value Market) where low income individuals and families eligible for WIC, CalFresh and similar benefits can purchase low cost food.
Leading chefs from Sonoma County are part of a Culinary Cabinet offering their expertise to help create the best design and layout for activities being planned. They will also provide advice on how to successfully operate the kitchen and café.
“To generate additional revenue, we plan to rent the community room and lease excess storage space to wineries or others wishing to use our facility until the food bank needs it back.”
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