New design creates market space for artisans and farmers

[caption id="attachment_24800" align="alignright" width="360" caption="Artist renderings of The Barlow"][/caption]

SEBASTOPOL – A west Sonoma County city with a heritage of apple processing, natural living and artistry could have a dilapidated former apple plant near downtown transformed into a center for artisans and farmers to sell the fruits of their labor.

Barney Aldridge, a 44-year-old real estate developer and property manager, plans to start major renovation and construction by the end of this year at the northwest corner of Highway 116 and Morris Street. Called The Barlow after the apple products company that operated there for decades, the project is targeted at cleaning up an “eye sore” at Sebastopol’s eastern entrance.

“This project is focused on small businesses teaming up with me to create a unique environment,” Mr. Aldridge said.

The project also was designed to address several of the top 10 public recommendations for city economic vitality collected for a summit nearly a year ago. At the top of the list was a permanent home for the farmers market, currently being held at the Town Plaza.

A number of North Bay communities have established food and arts venues or have them on the drawing board. Oxbow Public Market in Napa recently reached full occupancy. Two dedicated facilities are in the works for Santa Rosa, and one has been contemplated for Windsor.

Other suggestions from the Sebastopol economic summit were promotion of the city’s art identity at No. 5, business incubation space at No. 6 and permanent facilities for the Center for the Arts, currently housed a couple of blocks west of the project site.

When complete, the development will have eight barn-style engineered steel buildings with more than 68,000 square feet. The two largest buildings will have 16 suites of 300 to 500 square feet. Five buildings of 4,000 square feet each would be erected along Morris. A commercial kitchen will be constructed and made available to tenants.

Quoted rental rates are $1.75 to $2.25 per square foot per month.

Mr. Aldridge sees the involvement of the Center for the Arts as crucial to bringing together enough space commitments from artisans to reach the half-occupancy needed for construction financing on the project, according to Mr. Aldridge. The estimated cost of the project is $8 million to $12 million.

Lease reservations so far have come from the Center for the Arts and artisans The Wolfard Glassblowing and Bronze Plus Art Foundry, Sebastopol Farm Market as well as nearby companies such as yerba mate beverage maker Guayaki and wholesale coffee roaster Taylor Maid Farms.

Other types of tenants being courted are a yoga studio or spiritual center and restaurants.

Mr. Aldridge is confident the project will be three-quarters spoken for by the point of ground breaking. Construction documents are anticipated to be approved for issuance of building permits by December. If started at that time, the project completion would be summer 2011. A general contractor is being selected.

The 6.5-acre project property is bounded on the west and east by Depot and Morris streets and on the north and south by Laguna Parkway and Sebastopol Avenue.

Part of The Barlow Co. former production building will be torn down to extend McKinley Street east through the property to Morris. That was part of a deal with the city to reach approval of the project in December 2009, offering another avenue for traffic to reach the downtown area.

Another aspect of the deal included setting aside land on the north end of the property along Laguna Parkway for outdoor sports courts and meeting spaces open to community use.

The farmers market will be held under awnings on the McKinley extension when the street is shut down on Sundays.

Mr. Aldridge acquired The Barlow Co. site and surrounding warehouse space from Pine Creek Properties of Santa Rosa five years ago as the city was exploring redevelopment of the industrial area and the buildings needed significant upgrades to be effectively leased.

A longtime friend of the Martin family who operate Pine Creek, Mr. Aldridge started in real estate investment with fixer-upper single-family and attached rental homes in the early 1990s. After a few multifamily construction projects in the Santa Rosa area, he got out of real estate development in 2002.

Sebastopol landscape architect Sandra Reed and designer Thad Gelder came up with the renovation and site plan. Edwin Wilson of O’Malley Wilson Westphal in Santa Rosa is the architect of record.

For more information, call 415-258-9696 or visit www.thebarlow.net.