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Montgomery Village acquired by East Coast developer

A Boston-based developer has purchased the 70-year-old landmark Montgomery Village shopping center in east Santa Rosa from David and Melissa Codding.

The deal, which has been in the works for months, closed Monday. The purchase price was not disclosed for the 280,000-square-foot development that has fared much better than many of its competitors in recent years, especially during COVID-19 as shoppers preferred outdoor retail environments over indoor malls.

A historic community retail destination, Montgomery Village for generations was owned and operated by members of Santa Rosa’s Codding family, first by Hugh and Nell Codding and then by Hugh’s son David Codding and his wife, Melissa. During their tenure, the village became a prime gathering spot for local families to shop, eat and enjoy musical performances with as many as 65 concerts a year.

In an interview, the couple said they were approached out of the blue by WS Development in August. Company officials were persistent in their pitch to them, said David Codding, 66.

The center lost only four tenants during the pandemic, out of a roster of 75, and had weathered the upheaval in retail shopping patterns much better than nearby shopping centers such as Santa Rosa Plaza and Coddingtown Mall, given its mixture of boutique stores such as Copperfield’s Books and Sonoma Outfitters with popular restaurants such as SEA Thai Bistro & Bar and Monti’s.

The Coddings said they knew they ultimately would have to sell the shopping center as their daughter, Alexis, is pursuing a graduate degree with the goal of being a marine biology professor rather than taking over operations of the shopping center.

“We were probably three years from now when we would have seriously thought about what would we do about the shopping center. But sometimes when an offer comes in you just go,” Melissa Codding said.

The couple found WS Development the right fit as it operates outdoor shopping centers across the country with more than 100 properties that range from urban spaces to lifestyle-and-community centers.

Founded in 1990, WS Development is one of the largest privately held development firms in the country that is vertically integrated from the creation of projects to operating and leasing of sites. Its properties include the Boston Seaport, the largest active development project in Boston’s history; Hyde Park Village in Tampa, Florida; and Royal Poinciana Plaza in Palm Beach, Florida.

Company officials could not be reached for comment on Monday night but in a statement promised that they would build upon what the Coddings created.

“Everything about Montgomery Village — from its long history serving Sonoma County to its strollable sidewalks, inviting courtyards, and thoughtful mix of local and national brands — makes it a special addition to WS’s portfolio,” said Jeremy Sclar, chief executive officer of WS Development, in a statement. “We look forward to building upon the property’s strong foundation to position it for its next 70 years.”

David Codding said he expects that WS Development could bring in some chain stores that the couple were not able to attract, given it has $2 billion to $3 billion in assets and almost 400 employees. “They can bring in some good improvements to the village and they can bring in some chain stores we haven’t been able to fully entice or have the leverage,” he said.

A few tenants had mostly a positive outlook on the sale.

“We’re happy for the Coddings. I’m hoping the new owners will be as accommodating as David and Melissa,” said Michael Rodgers, operations manager of MikkiMoves, which is transforming into Corcoran Global Living.

Rodgers, noting the long history of the shopping village, built by the Coddings after construction of homes in the area starting in 1950, said the Coddings were friendly, hands-on and charitable to businesses hurting during the pandemic. They were quick to respond to issues like roof leaks or problems with air conditioning; they sponsored concerts that drew customers to the center and held a charity event at Christmas to help the homeless.

“I’m fine with (the sale), as long as rents aren’t going up,” said Rebecca, a manager at Monti’s restaurant who declined to give her last name. “It would be neat to see some younger, fresher businesses that would bring in a younger clientele.”

Rodgers said he agreed that customers skew older at the village, but pointed out it’s the nearest shopping center to Oakmont.

“Plus I think it caters to clients of a higher economic status,” he said. “The Coddings have been selective about the stores they allow to come in here.”

For example, he said Acre Coffee is in the center, but not Starbucks.

Shoppers on Tuesday who were browsing stores and eating lunch on a breezy 72-degree day had mixed opinions about the sale.

“I came from San Francisco,” said Joann Mitchell of Santa Rosa, walking into the Classic Duck shop. “One of the shopping centers was sold and they modernized it, so it might work out good. It’s a nice shopping center, but it needs an upgrade.”

Vicki Johnson of Rohnert Park, who has lived in the area for 42 years and was eating lunch on the Monti’s patio, said she had her doubts.

“I don’t like that idea. It’s like a landmark in Santa Rosa. They might make changes, and it’s great just the way it is. It’s our only outdoor shopping center really where you can just stroll around and shop like we’ve been doing,” she said, gesturing to the young woman beside her.

John Pappas of Santa Rosa, who also was eating with his family outdoors at Monti’s, said he was sad about the sale.

“It would be nice if they could keep it in the (Codding) family. It’s been here a long time. I hope they listen to local needs and are active, not passive, about it,” Pappas said.

You can reach Staff Writers Bill Swindell at 707-521-5233 bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com and Kathleen Coates at kathleen.coates@pressdemocrat.com.

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