Barlow project turns idle Sebastopol plants into artisan food center
By ROBERT DIGITALE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
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.
The current project didn't take shape until the city had spent five years and $500,000 on trying to develop a vision for Aldridge's property and the surrounding land where workers for generations had packed and canned Sebastopol's signature product: apples.
Over the past decade, two big concepts vied for the hearts and minds of city leaders considering the area's future.
The first involved creating new urban spaces with two-story buildings and pedestrian-friendly streets. Petaluma, Windsor and Healdsburg revived their downtowns or nearby districts with this approach, often with a mix of stores and restaurants on the ground floor and condominiums above them.
Around 2003 Sebastopol officials began pursuing a similar approach for the apple district. They eventually proposed 300 residences and more than 400,000 square feet of retail and civic space between downtown and the Laguna de Santa Rosa. But the plan drew stiff opposition and died after voters in 2008 elected a new council majority that didn't support it.