PETALUMA -- A local real estate investment group purchased a 50,000-square-foot south Petaluma food production facility locally started Barbara's Bakery operated until last year.

[caption id="attachment_74173" align="alignright" width="300"] Barbara's Bakery vacated this south Petaluma building last year. (image credit: Cushman n Wakefield)[/caption]

Healdsburg-based real estate investor Next Investments, Inc., and San Francisco-based Harrigan Weidenmuller Co., said to be San Francisco’s oldest real estate investor, operating since 1900,  bought the vacant building, located at 3900 Cypress Dr. in Oakmead Business Park.

The price of the May 23 sale wasn't disclosed in public records.

The buyers said the plant is suited to meet the "surging demand" for production space from North Bay specialty food and beverage producers. They said they received several inquiries during the escrow period about leasing the building.

"Boutique food and beverage production has been growing steadily in the North Bay in the past few years, despite the recession," said Scott Schadlich of Next Investments. "We believe we can lease this facility relatively quickly."

Building features that make it appealing to such producers include floor drains, refrigerated storage, 24-foot clear height in the warehouse, four truck docks, a grade-level rollup door, and 1,600 amps of electrical power.

Barbara Jaffe started Barbara’s in 1971 in Palo Alto. Weetabix acquired it in 1986 and two years later moved it to Petaluma, where they employed more than 50. By the beginning of last year, Weetabix had consolidated its North American manufacturing to Massachusetts and outsourced distribution to a third party, so the company closed the Petaluma facility. [See "Barbara’s to leave Petaluma," Jan. 19, 2012.]

The buyers said they noted the need for food production space by way of a Business Journal conference in November called “Our Food, Our Bounty, Our Future.” The region has outperformed the state in specialty-food sector employment and growth, according to conference speaker Robert Eyler, chairman of the economics department at Sonoma State University and director of the school’s Center for Regional Economic Analysis. Sector employment statewide decreased by more than 5 percent in 10 years ending in 2011, while jobs in the North Bay increased by about 20 percent. [See "Specialty foods at heart of what defines the North Bay," Nov. 26, and "Report: Specialty food supports 15,300 jobs," Nov. 12.]

Harrigan Weidenmuller has a long history of North Bay investments, including the former Rosenburg’s department store in downtown Santa Rosa, which the company sold to the Ledson family.

This is Harrigan Weidenmuller's second acquisition with Next Investments, following 97 San Marin Dr., Novato, which is all leased to Kaiser Permanente.

Next Investments primarily focuses on the North Bay, where it owns six commercial properties.

Tony Sarno and Sean Heaton of Cushman & Wakefield represented 3900 Cypress seller Barbara's Bakery, Inc., and buyer 3900 Cypress Drive, LLC.