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Fulton revival Chicken slaughterhouse reborn as workspace for artists, other tenants

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A former chicken slaughterhouse just north of Santa Rosa is taking on new life as a workplace for artists and craftsmen.

Cleaned up and renovated, the old Fulton processing plant is now a warren of workshops and studio spaces.

The tenants include a glass blower, a musical instrument maker, wood grain painter, wine cork tester, vintage furniture and art dealer, and master carpenter and cabinetmaker.

"I was predisposed to think it's funky," said Max Nichols, a residential designer who remembers the smell from the old slaughterhouse, which could get especially strong in the summertime.

Nichols, who has leased an office there for three months, said Monday that the new owner of the facility, Rami Batarseh, "has done an amazing job of cobbling it together and made a place where people want to be."

"It's funky. It's a little weird. It's cool. It's unique," is how glassblower Kevin Howell described his new digs in the former chicken processing plant.

The Santa Rosa man said he had a home studio for 11 years before moving into the Fulton building last month.

"I like the atmosphere," he said.

Batarseh, a commercial and investment real estate broker who purchased the site a year ago, said artists like to be together.

"They give momentum to each other," he said.

Colin Foulke, one of the first tenants, said "it's still kind of evolving." He occupies a rare niche in the world of musical instruments, making and tuning steelpans and handpans.

Rich harmonies flow from the instruments in his work space, alternating with pounding air hammers when he forges his tuned metal creations.

About 200 people attended a holiday open house two weeks ago at the slaughterhouse, billed as a celebration of the transformation of an old eyesore into a "vibrant community center."

The 25,000-square-foot building served as a showcase for 300 pieces of art from about 50 artists, most of which will remain on display to the public from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays through January.

Though it's still only about 60 percent occupied, there's no denying a new vitality to the place, which has been referred to as both the Fulton Art Depot and Fulton Railroad Village, for its proximity to the railroad tracks.

Batarseh said he hasn't decided on a name.

But he said there is no shortage of artists who want to rent space , especially at the monthly rate of 50 cents to one dollar per square foot.

"I'm not really trying to make a buck out of this," said Batarseh, who acquired the 1-acre property for $75,000, according to county records.

Part of the constraint in finding new tenants is the septic system, which is not up to current standards. Batarseh said he's had to turn down wineries, beer makers and soup makers because the system is not set up for large volumes of liquid.

The old chicken plant had a processing pond that was grandfathered in after new regulations took effect.

Fulton residents and county officials have been delighted with the cleanup of the plant, which became strewn with trash and junk following its closure in 2010.

Batarseh said he welcomes artists, but also is open to other types of uses that don't cause heavy wear and tear on the property or produce too much noise or dust.

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

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