The Barlow Center, a mixed-use industrial project with a focus on food, wine, art and sustainable retail in downtown Sebastopol, has announced plans to break ground this fall.

Looking toward a summer 2011 opening, the 6.5-acre campus hopes to include the long-running Sebastopol Farmers Market at its center, along with possible restaurant, retail, artisan food producer and wine production tenants.

Sebastopol farmers market manager Paula Downing confirmed that she hoped to move to the more spacious site once it was completed.

A project years in the making, The Barlow is one of several farm market/retail proposals being aggressively pursued in Sonoma County, including the Sonoma Market Hall and the Railroad Square Market, both in Santa Rosa. Smaller in scope than the ambitious Market Hall and with a strong focus on hyper-local retailers, the Barlow will revamp the historic Barlow Apple Factory warehouse that's become more eyesore than attraction.

According to Barney Aldridge, whose company Aldridge Management is backing the project, the campus will include the renovated warehouse plus eight additional structures.

"We're starting to get commitments from people," he said, but declined to be more specific. Several local purveyors, including a local meat rancher, cafe, roastery and caterer, are rumored to be seeking out spaces.

In addition to the eight buildings, which will be built according to green standards, the space will also include a fountain, fire pits, a garden, bocce ball courts, sunken seating area, children's play area, public bathrooms, parking and a number of art installments. Aldridge said that he also plans to create large awnings for the outdoor farm market to enable it to continue year-round, and possibly more than one day a week.

Kenyon Webster, Planning Director for the city of Sebastopol, said that site is now past the major hurdles of the public hearing process and is now moving into non-discretionary building and engineering permits and hopes to receive final approval from the city's Design Review Board in August.

"He (Aldridge) is past the kind of public controversy point that you sometimes see with larger projects," said Webster.

The site had been on hold for several years while the city wrangled over zoning changes to the site, ultimately deciding to maintain the current industrial zoning, rather than adding any residential zoning to the site. Aldridge said he also was required to conform to FEMA standards because the site is on a hundred-year flood plain.

Road improvements are also part of the deal, according to Aldridge. The existing warehouse, which blocks McKinley St. and sits on the city's sewer line, will be relocated and the road continued to help relieve some of the traffic congestion at the Highway 12 intersection and connect to Morris Street.

Adjacent to the Barlow is the 120,000 square-foot Sebastopol Co-Op, already occupied by a number of artists, the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, the Guayaki Tea Company and Wolford Glass Company. Aldridge plans to include them in the development plans.

"What we're looking to do is create a community environment -- to take a property that's pretty unattractive right now and turn it into a community center," said project manager Amber Faur of the now-vacant Barlow warehouse. "We want to cultivate that locavore vibe of artisan food, wine and community."

Now that those have been overcome, plans are moving forward quickly, Faur describes the completed space as a sort of San Francisco Ferry Building with a strong community feel. "This is just a really great spot to bring together local synergy," she said.

Heather Irwin is a food and dining blogger for the Press Democrat. You can find her always-updating food news at

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