The community of Graton may get its public plaza after all as part of a plan by a businessman to purchase the old fire station.

George Melo of Sebastopol has a tentative agreement with the Graton Fire Protection District to buy the station for his mail processing business and lease the land to the Graton Green Group to develop a community plaza.

"We will focus on the business end of the partnership and they will focus on the community plaza," said Melo, whose business currently is in Santa Rosa.

A community plaza has been the goal of the non-profit group for the past three years, but seemed to have been derailed when the fire district rejected its offer for a lease-purchase plan.

"It makes a lovely enterprise for all," said HolLynn D'Lil, the group's founder. "We get to have a community addition, the development of the retail space, and we get to develop a park, a downtown plaza."

Graton's all-volunteer fire department moved last summer into a new, $3.5 million station on Gravenstein Highway.

The department had outgrown the 1940s building in central Graton, which previously had been a train depot and gas station. It had been the site of the fire department since the district was formed in 1951.

Fire officials initially asked $429,000 for the property, then reduced the asking price to $350,000 and the purchase is in escrow.

The district acknowledges accepting an offer from Melo but refuses to disclose the sales price, saying that negotiations are continuing.

"The board is pleased with the offer and the components, which does include opportunity for a combined park and business," said Deputy Chief Bill Bullard. "Graton gets its park and the board receives compensation for the property. That definitely was a contributor to the comfort level of accepting the offer."

The building is on a half-acre parcel at Graton and Ross roads, in the center of the community. It also backs up to the West County Trail popular with walkers, runners and cyclists and is somewhat of a crossroads for recreational cyclists.

Melo said his mail processing business would occupy a portion of the building. The remainder would be rented for a bicycle shop and pastry shop, a combination that Melo envisions as a potential cycling center.

"I have ridden by that station since I was 11 years old," he said.

The grounds outside the building would be leased to the community group to landscape as a plaza. The lease price has not been set.

D'Lil said the group has raised pledges of $150,000, but estimates that developing the plaza would cost about $500,000.

(You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or