SANTA ROSA -- Redwood Empire Food Bank is moving forward with the first part of a $9 million expansion plan designed to greatly increase the organization's ability to supply food to a growing number of hungry North Coast families, seniors, adults and children over the next 25 years.

[caption id="attachment_40024" align="alignright" width="448" caption="Redwood Empire Food Bank plans to expand next summer into this north Santa Rosa building, occupied by Avery Weigh-Tronix until early 2010."][/caption]

The food bank, which currently supplies 149 organizations reaching 75,000 people, has reached a deal to purchase the 60,400-square-foot former Avery Weigh-Tronix building at 3990 Brickway Blvd. near Charles M. Schulz--Sonoma County Airport for $5 million.

Between the planned close of escrow Sept. 26 and the targeted move-in timeframe of next summer, the food bank plans to spend another $2.5 million to modify the virtually new building with a 5,000-square-foot freezer and cooler, warehouse racking, truck docks and offices. Also planned there is a "value marketplace" outlet store for low-income families.

"Our community has needed to make this expansion for years," said David Goodman, executive director. "This year -- for the first time since the REFB was founded 24 years ago -- we will not be able to distribute more food than we did last year."

Interestingly, the same economic slump that has increased demand for food from partner organizations by 20 percent over the past three years also presented the food bank with a solution, according to Mr. Goodman and Jim Keegan, vice president of commercial real estate brokerage Keegan & Coppin and a food bank capital campaign committee member. For the past several years, the food bank was looking to build a distribution facility because its main facility and three smaller adjacent spaces in northwest Santa Rosa weren't up to handling and distributing the volume of food needed. The current facility has one truck loading dock.

"When the economy came down, opportunities came up," Mr. Keegan said.

The Brickway building was one of four built for Agilent Technologies more than a decade ago, but the company didn't occupy them long. Avery Weigh-Tronix leased the building in November 1999 and moved out at the beginning of 2010. Napa-based Sonoma Airport Properties LLC purchased three in 2008 and has fully leased two. Prospects for filling the empty building were "dim" and prevailing rents would have devalued the building to $4 million, or by one-third, so selling it to the food bank for $5 million made sense, according to managing member Ron Profili.

Construction costs for such a building could be more than that. And the food bank estimates it will save $19 million in lease fees over 25 years and be able to serve 41 million meals.

The building acquisition was made possible via two $1 million donations from the Ernest L. and Ruth W. Finley Foundation, which is led by Norma Person, and Mari Benson of the family of Robert Benson. Other major donors were Friedman Family Foundation, G.K. Hardt Trust, William and Inez Mabie Family Foundation, the Jean Schulz Donor Advised Fund of Community Foundation Sonoma County, Barbara Banke of Jackson Family Wines, Betty Freeman, the Trione Family and Celebrate Community Partners.

Funds to outfit and modify the new building are being sought.

Correction, Sept. 9, 2011: Avery Weigh-Tronix leased 3990 Brickway Blvd. in November 1999, shortly after the building was finished. A previous story on the purchase by Sonoma Airport Properties LLC had the correct information.