After years as a vacant throwback to Petaluma’s agri-industrial origins, the former Adobe Lumber yard on the northeastern edge of the city is coming alive with new tenants and a bold plan to create a hub for makers of art, music, food and beverages.
The 12.9-acre site at 5400 Old Redwood Highway has been vacant since Clover Sonoma relocated its headquarters to the south end of Petaluma in 2012. Clover bought the property in 2004 and sold it to Petaluma-based Cornerstone Properties in 2014.
A year after it spearheaded the opening 16,000-square-foot makerspace 180 Studios at its Todd Road industrial complex, Cornerstone last summer turned its attention to doing something similar but more encompassing at the Petaluma site. One name being kicked around for the revamp is “Barn 5400.”
“The vision for this project is to have a community place, with a farmer’s market, food trucks, live music,” said Pauline Block, head of marketing.
The first phase is working with the existing buildings: the main building that’s visible from the road plus 16,800 square feet in two lumber sheds between that building and the railroad tracks.
With a fresh coat of paint on the main building, Cornerstone leased about 12,000 of those square feet to FEED Sonoma, which began expanding into the space in December from Sebastopol. A temporary tenant in 2,000 square feet is David Best, a Petaluma artist known for work at the annual Burning Man event. He is preparing a work to be displayed at Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C., next month.
“FEED” is short for “Farmers Exchange of Earthly Delights” and describes the company’s focus on connecting small-scale farmers with buyers such as stores and corporate foodservice accounts. Started in 2010, FEED Sonoma sources from over 60 local farms and distributes vegetables, meats and other products to about 50 restaurants, more than a dozen independent grocery stores and chains, and company locations for the likes of Airbnb, Supercell, Google and Twitter.
FEED Sonoma co-founder Tim Page is helping Cornerstone with the concept of which artists and producers should be wooed to the Petaluma property, Block said. Page could not be reached for comment.
This summer, Cornerstone plans to host popup events at the property, which features a 10-acre yard that once housed stacks of lumber and pathways for forklifts and trucks. As the property is in the unincorporated area outside Petaluma city limits, Cornerstone is working with former Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo on securing permits to hold events and to serve beer.
A music stage may be built on the east side of the property, with the Willowbrook Feed Mill next door as a backdrop.
The lumber sheds can be enclosed to create maker booths, but a nearer-term goal is to create an indoor gallery of maker booths, akin to Oxbow Public Market in Napa, only without the food, according to Block.
Longer-term ideas for the property include bringing in highly refinished shipping containers as modular buildings for offices, mini taprooms for local brewers and a pavilion for beekeepers.
“Petaluma is a good location for food aggregation,” Block said.
The city of Petaluma has been having conversations for years with the business community on a centralized location that would support new food companies, but “it has never gotten traction because of how that model would work,” according to Ingrid Alverde, city economic development manager.
“Having a space like that would be really helpful for up-and-coming food companies, because having a space, the facilities that are necessary and a destination to market their wares are obviously a challenge,” Alverde said. “A lot of food companies start at farmer’s markets, or they work through distributors trying to get shelf space.”
The opportunity to build a direct-to-consumer business is important because of the challenges breaking into retail, according to Alverde. Key factors for such startups is affordable space that meets logistical needs, she said.
Two ideas floated for creating a food hub in the city are a large shared commercial kitchen and a place for food trucks. The commissary idea came close to emerging from Petaluma’s oven in 2012, when Buckelew Programs planned to open its 11,000-square-foot People’s Harvest venture. But the Marin County-based nonprofit later scaled back the venture.
Then food trucks were eager to roll into the city, but like in a number of urban areas, they encountered speed bumps of opposition from brick-and-mortar restaurants. Then came The Block, a half-acre lot behind the Auto Zone store on East Washington Street and next to the landmark Dairymen’s Feed & Supply Co-op building. The venture opened last April and offers spaces for more than two dozen food trucks and has a 30-tap beer garden operating from a modified shipping container.
For phase 2 at Barn 5400, Cornerstone envisions a park and square on the southern end of the site, along the tracks, according to Pauline Block. The property also has a rail spur, used long ago for deliveries of lumber and other products. Cornerstone has been in talks with Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit since 2015 about a land donation for a north Petaluma station to serve the surrounding business parks.
Started on the Peninsula in 1985, Cornerstone first invested in North Bay property in 2006 and now has a portfolio of nearly 1 million square feet of commercial space plus 70 acres for possible development. Buy at a low price, refurbish and bring to market at attractive rental rates to fill buildings was a strategy it had employed with a 1 million-square-foot portfolio in Silicon Valley.
Cornerstone went on a buying spree in 2014. It bought a nearly 54,000-square-foot vacant office building in east Santa Rosa, a 124,337-square-foot warehouse in southwest Santa Rosa, 130,000 square feet in three office and industrial buildings in Westwind Business Park near Charles M. Schulz–Sonoma County Airport, and the 58,000-square-foot downtown Santa Rosa building that houses The Press Democrat and the Business Journal.
“Warehouse (space) is in pretty high demand,” Block said.
Of particular interest are smaller spaces to house the likes of contractors, machine shops and inventory storage, she said. So Cornerstone is preparing to prepare 16,000 square feet of its Todd Road property with ready-to-occupy spaces of 1,000–1,600 square feet.
Also in the works for that south Santa Rosa property is an incubator for beer businesses, Block said.
Jeff Quackenbush (firstname.lastname@example.org, 707-521-4256) covers the wine business and commercial construction and real estate.
Correction, Feb. 15, 2018: The Block in Petaluma is a private venture. The original version of the story did not make that clear.