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Barlow project turns idle Sebastopol plants into artisan food center

  • John Warren, left, and Dwight Gilbert work on one of the several new structures at The Barlow, in Sebastopol, on Thursday, June 21, 2012.

New steel-framed buildings are rising and old metal-sided warehouses are getting refurbished in Sebastopol this summer in a $23.5 million project that supporters tout as a new public marketplace and production center for local food, wine and art.

The 12-acre Barlow project amounts to the biggest development in Sebastopol in years, as well as the culmination of a multi-year debate over how to redevelop an old apple packing district on the eastern edge of the downtown.

With the 220,000-square-foot project, this town of 7,400 hopes to bolster its reputation as an iconic place for local farm bounty and artisanal foods. The Barlow's 17 new and existing buildings will offer visitors something most public markets don't: the chance to watch coffee being roasted, beer brewed and olives pressed.

"This is the motherland for any epicurean; this is where it is," said Seth Wood, who is preparing with a partner to open the Woodfour Brewing Co. there this fall. Wood graduated from New York's Culinary Institute of America and predicts the development will "change the face of Sebastopol."

The site's existing buildings house a few tenants who will remain, including Bronze Plus Art Foundry and Guyaki, a leading U.S. producer of the South American drink yerba mate. But much of the existing space became vacant late last summer when jar-closure maker Innovative Molding moved from the site to Rohnert Park.

Demolition and construction began last winter, but has become considerably more noticeable in recent weeks.

A two-alarm fire earlier this month caused irreparable damage to one of the project's existing warehouses. That will cause a delay, possibly until next winter, for affected businesses until a new warehouse is constructed in its place.

But other companies are hoping to move into their renovated buildings as early as this summer, with more planning to open in the fall.

Barney Aldridge, the project's developer, has owned the land since 2006 and hopes to start welcoming the public in October.

"I think that we're creating a whole new downtown for Sebastopol," he said. As part of the project, he is building new public streets that will tie into the existing downtown and the nearby skate park.

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