COTATI -- One of the North Bay's smallest cities has become a major hub for indoor simulated-combat entertainment as well as "tactical medicine" training for law enforcement.
After several years of fits and starts of ventures to open sizable Sonoma County indoor venues for paintball or Airsoft close-quarters combat (CQB) and military simulations (MilSim), two have opened in Cotati.
In early June, Cotati Airsoft Tactical (707-242-8242, cotatiairsofttactical.com) opened in a 19,000-square-foot warehouse at 8353 Santero Way, off East Cotati Avenue. As its name suggests, the business offers competitions with Airsoft guns, which are real-looking handguns and rifles that fire plastic BBs.
[caption id="attachment_75931" align="alignleft" width="250"] Joshua Carlberg (image credit: Jeff Quackenbush)[/caption]
General manager and instructor for the business is Joshua Carlberg, who has been involved in training law-enforcement special weapons and tactics, or SWAT, teams in the Bay Area via Airsoft for five years and was involved in the Army response to the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
"Hopefully, local law enforcement will want to get involved with coming here to train," he said.
While there are proprietary systems and devices law enforcement uses for nonleathal firearms training against each other, called force-on-force training, Airsoft weapons that have the same weight, look and feel of firearms have been adopted for training because the cost of the pellets can be a fraction of that for the others.
Also operating out of the same building as Cotati Airsoft Tactical is Down Range (415-342-4646). Led by Robert Green, a paramedic and former medic in the Army and on the Sonoma County Sheriff helicopter, and former Army special forces operator Jason Mackay, the firm that offers personal- and executive-security consulting as well as training and certification in "tactical medicine," which law-enforcement officers can use to treat injuries to themselves or comrades before it's safe for medical personnel to reach them.
[caption id="attachment_75942" align="alignright" width="256"] Down Range offers certification courses in tactical combat casualty care. (image credit: Down Range)[/caption]
For $250, Down Range offers a two-day tactical combat casualty care certification course through the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians.
In an industrial park on the west side of Cotati, Playland (707-238-5088, playland707.com) reopened in nearly 8,000 square feet in Suite 2 at 374 Blodgett St. It currently is approved for group competitions with light, Nerf dart and Airsoft guns.
Some of the investors in Cotati Airsoft Tactical are behind Escape Entertainment, which in 2010 converted a 45,000-square-foot former Levitz furniture store in northwest Rohnert Park into an indoor venue for paintball plus light tag and videogames.
Escape and Playland have had their challenges. In early November of last year, Escape discontinued paintball.
"We shrank the business to half the square footage," said Anthony Berglund, one of the partners in Cotati Airsoft Tactical and Escape Entertainment.
[caption id="attachment_75944" align="alignleft" width="350"] Cotati Airsoft Tactical offers wood-framed room partitions and obstacles for simulations. (image credit: Jeff Quackenbush)[/caption]
Other factors in that decision were the large amount of space taken up by the paintball field, the cost and difficulty in cleaning the paint plus the ability to make money with light tag in much less space, he said.
Playland started when pro-level paintball player Ryan Podesta left his consulting role with Escape and in 2011 set out to open a 60,000-square-foot paintball venue at 170 Todd Rd. in southwest Santa Rosa. Some of the challenges in bringing paintball to Playland's Cotati location were behind the delays in opening the Santa Rosa facility, according to Mr. Podesta.