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Sunset magazine will make Cornerstone Sonoma the home of its main gardens and outdoor test kitchen, a move that is expected to revitalize the Sonoma Valley attraction by drawing a new wave of international attention — and visitors — to the region.

The popular Time Inc. publication, known mostly for its lifestyle magazine and online website focusing on the West, announced Tuesday it is leaving its longtime campus in Menlo Park. It will move its editorial headquarters to Jack London Square in Oakland and relocate its gardens, where editors and staff test their ideas, to Sonoma.

Under the joint venture, Cornerstone will use the iconic Sunset brand to lure more visitors and retailers to its property near the junction of Highways 121 and 116, while Sunset will receive a scenic location for editorial photo shoots, advertiser gatherings and its growing events business.

“It’s a great opportunity for the region,” said Kenwood Investments founder Darius Anderson, who formed an investment group to acquire Cornerstone last year.

Cornerstone’s gallery-style gardens attract between 100,000 and 120,000 visitors annually. Anderson predicted that number will increase dramatically as a result of the partnership with Sunset, which has 1.3 million subscribers and drew 2.1 million unique visitors to its website in April.

“With that type of popularity and recognition, it will bring a lot of attention,” said Anderson, managing member of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat, the Petaluma Argus-Courier, The Sonoma Index-Tribune, The North Bay Business Journal and Sonoma magazine.

Anderson teamed with investors Gary Nelson and Bill Hooper to purchase the 36-acre Cornerstone property late last year amid complaints that it had failed to live up to its potential as a premier destination spot. It has 20 walk-through garden installations that are updated by visiting landscape artists, a few retail shops, two art galleries, a restaurant and three wineries.

The Sunset imprint carries a cachet that will provide Cornerstone a hook to lure in visitors. Hooper, president of Kenwood, said Sunset will be featured on Cornerstone road signs. “What Cornerstone has needed was a reason for someone to finally pull off the highway,” Hooper said.

It will also help in recruiting additional retailers to Wine Country, which is becoming a bigger draw for such shopping with the Oxbow Public Market in Napa and Williams-Sonoma recently returning to its namesake town.

“There is going to be a new mix. We’re looking for new vendors, hopefully adding some additional retail footage out there,” Anderson said. “With Sunset putting its brand on the gardens, there will be a tremendous amount of interest. We want to have the right mix of retail, wine and food and everything else.”

Sunset will use the location for its photo shoots and its garden education programs, said Peggy Northrup, the magazine’s editor-in-chief. Its gardening coverage is very comprehensive, with 11 books on the topic within the past four years, and topical, such as focusing on the best plants for use during California’s drought.

The move offers Sunset tremendous opportunities for events, which is becoming an increasingly lucrative market for media firms. The magazine may use Cornerstone to conduct outdoor cooking demonstrations for readers or host its annual international wine competition, she said.

“I call the area Disneyland for people who love food and wine,” Northrup said.

She referred to the Sonoma location as the magazine’s “country house” and noted that its old Menlo Park campus, where Sunset has been for 51 years, “could be a little bit of a fortress.”

Anderson tried to woo Sunset to move its entire operations to Sonoma when he learned the magazine was selling its headquarters in Menlo Park. “That day, I fired off a letter to the publisher saying I’d love to talk to them about potentially moving to Wine Country,” he said.

County officials, including Supervisor Susan Gorin and Planning Director Tennis Wick, participated in the discussions and were supportive of having Sunset bring its entire operation here, he said.

If Sunset was going to move its headquarters to Sonoma, a new building would have to be constructed, Anderson said. Gorin and Wick “came and reassured Sunset if they did select Sonoma for the site, they would work hand in hand with the developer and us and meet the deadlines necessary,” he said.

Despite not landing the headquarters, Anderson said the satellite campus “makes quite a statement for the whole region.”

Staff Writer Clark Mason contributed to this story. You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.

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