Sonoma County designer and builder Orrin Thiessen, who already has left his imprint firmly on the village of Graton, is planning a new residential project there — his first building venture since emerging three years ago from a bankruptcy tied to his previously extensive development business.
Thiessen’s proposed housing project would include 10 tightly packed, two-story houses, leaving space on the corner of the 1.4-acre property for a long-sought community park on which he is collaborating with local supporters.
But Thiessen, whose fortunes rose through a series of imaginative urban revitalization efforts that include the distinctive Town Green Village in central Windsor, has to operate a little differently these days, facing new financing hurdles in the wake of financial collapse.
Thiessen said he expects to be seeking private financing for his Graton project, anticipating reluctance on the part of lending institutions to provide construction funding. He said he also may build in phases, if money is tight.
“It’s a little bit like starting all over again,” Thiessen said.
He said he and his wife and business partner, Terri, have been working in the time since their life took an abrupt turn and they lost so much — suspending ambitious projects intended to redefine Forestville and Cotati and surrendering dozens of properties worth millions of dollars to resolve their 2011 Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
They also had to sell their rural home and property a few miles west of Graton, though the couple now lives in a smaller house on the site as caretakers.
Thiessen said he’s returned to contracting, and they’ve kept their business going on landscaping jobs, remodels, interior design work and the like. They have set aside enough money to pay for the $460,000 Graton site, a mostly vacant lot a block off the main drag used in part by the local community garden.
He said he’s confident his proposed Green Valley Village will reach fruition, and he’s excited to be doing the kind of creative work involved in conceiving and designing a project to fit a particular site and community.
“That’s what I love to do,” he said.
Thiessen’s work portfolio includes the $160 million Windsor Town Green project — a mixed-use development of 270 homes and 100 commercial units started in 2001 — and Harmony Village, a conversion of Harmony school in Occidental into a living and working space. The Thiessens donated the school’s multipurpose room to the Occidental Center for the Arts.
His work also defines Graton’s main business district, centered on a block of Graton Road he renovated in the late 1990s — quietly buying up buildings and renovating and rebuilding them using architectural details and profiles he observed in photos from 1905, when downtown Graton was first built, and 1916, when it was rebuilt after a fire.
Thiessen is credited with breathing new life into what had been a dilapidated downtown, where businesses like Willow Wood Market and Cafe now flourish, giving Graton a new identity as a destination for locals and tourists alike.
Thiessen once owned the same property now eyed for his latest project. The grass lot sits behind the popular Underwood Bar and Bistro and is bounded by Bowen, Shirley and Edison streets, and a gravel alley on the north.
When he learned the property on which he had once hoped to build homes and a park was on the market again early this year, Thiessen matched the highest bid in order to reacquire it.