Barlow developer obtains funding, starts construction

Construction on a Sebastopol development that aims to bring together local vintners, food makers and artists began Wednesday, a day after the project received a $23.5 million construction loan from Wells Fargo Bank.

The Barlow, a 220,000-square-foot complex of about a dozen commercial structures, is being developed on the site that formerly housed the Barlow Apple Factory.

"We're just getting rolling over here," developer Barney Aldridge said Wednesday. "We've got guys working out there today. It's a lot of work for a lot of people."

The construction project will employ an estimated 100 or more workers through local subcontractors, Aldridge said. Demolition crews will save some of the original walls of the old apple facility, in a nod to the history of the site.

The first phase of construction was originally scheduled to be completed by Jan. 1, but difficulties in securing financing delayed the project, Aldridge said. Now, the goal is to complete construction by July or August.

"God bless Wells Fargo for making an investment into America and into a small town," Aldridge said. "A lot of the banks we talked to looked at the population of Sebastopol, being about 7,000, and said we could not make a loan of that size in such a tertiary community. ... They don't realize that Sebastopol is the hub of a larger community."

Most of the site's retail and manufacturing space, about 78 percent, has been leased to about two-dozen tenants. Aldridge said a popular Sonoma County restaurant is in talks with The Barlow to possibly move in, but he could not disclose the restaurant's name.

Two new breweries, Woodfour Brewing Company and Barley and Hops, have signed leases. Kosta Browne winery, whose pinot noir was recently named "Wine of the Year" by Wine Spectator magazine, will move in when the space is ready, and construction crews will rush to complete the winery before the 2012 harvest, Aldridge said. Permits for tenants to make or serve alcoholic beverages were issued in October, Aldridge said.

Five tenants have already moved in and are open for business, including The Bronze Plus Art Foundry, a bronze caster which serves sculptors and artists; Wolfard Glassblowing, where artisans craft oil lamps and other works; Gypsy Bay Laurel, a harvester of wild local bay leaves; Guayaki Tea; and Sebastopol Center for the Arts.

And Terra Sonoma, which delivers locally grown organic produce, signed a lease Wednesday, said Emily Ledig, director of leasing and marketing.

"A lot of the local producers have supported this project, and we couldn't have done the project without so many local businesses signing on in advance," Aldridge said. "We're putting them in as fast as we can over here."

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