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The receiving area where chickens at the Fulton Farms processing plant were offloaded. Rami Batarseh wants to and convert the plant in to a 'Artist Depot' or some type of mixed use project, Tuesday May 28, 2013 in the Fulton community of Santa Rosa. The plant, vacant for a number of years, has been cleared of most debris and hazards. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

Ideas abound for shuttered Fulton chicken slaughterhouse

A former chicken slaughterhouse in Fulton is on its way to a reincarnation that could make it part "artists' depot," part wine storage facility or even a Halloween haunted house.

The possibilities are wide open when the new owner of the old processing plant talks about what might work in the huge facility he's cleaned up and offered for lease, much to the delight of Fulton community leaders.

Rami Batarseh, who purchased the one-acre property near the corner of Fulton and River roads last December, mentions music and pottery studios, food production, even a brewery as possibilities that could make a nice fit in the vacated building.

"I'm hoping it will benefit the Fulton community," said Batarseh. "My vision is it will be something complementary to Sonoma County industries."

Regardless of what eventually occupies the site, Fulton residents are gladdened by the clean-up of the old chicken plant, which became strewn with trash and junk following its closure in 2010.

"It was in total disrepair - a frightfully awful-looking building," said Roni Berg, a 20-year Fulton resident active in community issues.

"I am just stunned at how good it's looking over there and how bad it looked before," she said.

Sonoma County Supervisor Mike McGuire, whose district includes the small community just north of Santa Rosa, noted that before Batarseh bought the site it was being used for illegal storage of old boats and vehicles with leaking oils and fluids. Homeless people were living in the factory and starting fires.

Scavengers had a field day ripping out wire and metal from the shuttered plant. It had become a dump site.

"When the building was in an abandoned state, there was great concern in the community," said McGuire. "We fielded several phone calls, which led to abatement action taking place to secure the site and eventually clean up the mess."

Batarseh, a commercial and investment real estate broker whose background is in multi-family properties and strip malls, bought the River Road site for a bargain basement price of $75,000 from Fulton Processors Inc.

A native of Jordan with a master's degree in business administration from San Jose State University, he first invested in two homes across the street before deciding to buy the defunct plant.

"I bought it not knowing what was involved. As I kept cleaning it up I thought 'this is a decent building,'" he said.

When the plant, operated under the name Fulton Valley Processors, closed three years ago and laid off 123 employees, the company said it was too far from the Central Valley ranches that raise its chickens and too costly to continue operating.

Before it was bought by group of chicken processors in 1964, the building, part of which is believed to date back more than a century, had served as a turkey slaughterhouse, fruit and vegetable packing house and even a railroad station.

It's too early to say what businesses or other uses might occupy the site until Batarseh makes a specific application to the county and obtains approval.

"While the vision is still being refined, we look forward to working with Mr. Batarseh and the neighbors," McGuire said.

McGuire said a new identity for the plant fits well with beautification efforts in Fulton, a busy drive-through crossroads.

Fulton is on the verge of establishing a day labor center to relocate the throngs of men who hang out on the main road waiting for work. The community also will be holding its third annual Founders Day this summer when neighbors gather for a town clean-up, potluck and barbecue.

On a tour of the 25,000-square-foot industrial building and warehouse this week, Batarseh stood in a sunny, pergola-covered outside area, talking about the possibility of dance studios in some of the rooms, as well as music studios, plant nurseries or showrooms for winery products.

"It would be like a depot, an artists' depot," he said noting the proximity of the train tracks, as well as Highway 101.

He said the "Limited Rural Industrial" zoning even allows for a church. "It could be ideal for a UPS or Fed Ex center," he said.

He said his intent is to avoid heavy industrial uses, such as the towing companies and auto shops that have expressed interest.

"Getting it rented at the highest possible price is not necessarily my priority," he said.

On Wednesday, he said the tone of the facility may be set by an "anchor" tenant that takes a big chunk of the property. Or someone could lease the whole thing.

"I'm not in a rush. I will wait until I understand the market and who's out there," he said.

(You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com.)

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