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New life for buildings that once housed Telecom Valley

During the recession, a once-bustling hub of innovation and telecom startups in northeast Petaluma came to more closely resemble a graveyard of surplus office space.

Realty signs dotted many of the two-dozen buildings within the Redwood Business Park on North McDowell Boulevard and Old Redwood Highway. Rents became "negotiable."

Hulking structures went vacant as companies downsized or went belly-up when the tech boom imploded, leaving the ponds, waterfalls and employee basketball courts deserted.

Wild ducks and geese took over grassy areas where buzzing engineers used to bounce ideas off each other for pioneering new products.

But a resurgence of activity is breathing new life into the former Telecom Valley, while at the same time offering a salve on a community psyche wounded by the depressing sight of empty buildings.

During the past several months, several hundred thousand square feet of office and warehouse space in north Petaluma has been sold to new owners or leased to businesses seeking larger quarters or new homes.

Real estate experts say the moves are primarily the product of falling prices for commercial real estate.

"It seems that there's a whole new wash of new great tenants that are either expanding or moving to Petaluma," said Matt White, president of Basin Street Properties, a development firm that was founded in Petaluma.

"It's starting to sound and feel like some of the days back in the mid-1990s when Petaluma started to take off. It's certainly due to have some kind of economic recovery. It's been a tough 10 years."

Although second-quarter figures aren't yet available, real estate experts watching the Petaluma market speculate office space vacancies are about half of what they were a few months ago.

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