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CornerStone deal falls apart

An artist installs a CornerStone exhibit. File photo by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

An artist installs a CornerStone exhibit. File photo by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

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Despite statements to the contrary last February, a deal to purchase CornerStone Sonoma, the popular art-garden property on Highway 121 south of town, appears to have fallen through.

But the presumptive buyer, Walter Thompson of GenerX Real Estate Services, LLC, has not given up hope, stating in an email Thursday, “I have wonderful plans for CornerStone. I hope they work out.”

Details on the deal – including the negotiated price for the nine-acre property – have remained under wraps, and reasons for the snag were not disclosed. But rumors were swirling that the deal had collapsed – and that speculation was confirmed by CornerStone co-owner Teresa Raffo in an email to the Index-Tribune’s Kathleen Hill, stating that she and her partner Chris Houghie were “out of contract” with Thompson.

Founded 10 years ago by Raffo and Houghie, CornerStone was conceived as a “cultural and creative haven,” inspired by the International Garden Festival at Chaumont-sur-Loire in France. It hosts nearly two-dozen rotating installations by renowned landscape artists, attracting garden aficionados, Sunday picnickers and everyone in between.

An estimated 100,000 people visited CornerStone last year, which is free to the public and open year-round.

The site also houses high-end garden shops, indoor art galleries, wine tasting rooms, a tourist center and the Park 121 restaurant.

Bruce Riezenman, owner of Park 121, said Thursday he was not close to the deal and knew little about what went wrong.

“All I know is we as merchants did receive an email from Chris (Houghie) saying that there is no sale and they’re still in charge of the property.”

Although he couldn’t say how that might affect his restaurant, Riezenman did note that business was booming at Park 121 – up 15 percent from last year.

“As far as I’m concerned, I see great traffic at CornerStone,” he said.

In fact, Riezenman is finishing up plans for a new “after hours” pizza kitchen being built outside the restaurant and scheduled to open next month. It will be open 4 to 8 p.m. most evenings, he said.

Thompson, a Toronto native with offices in Toronto and San Rafael, has been cautious about the deal from the start, telling the Index-Tribune in March that, “until escrow has closed and we’ve had a chance to discuss things with more of CornerStone’s stakeholders, discussion of future plans would be premature.”

He did, however, state that he hoped to “see CornerStone achieve a broader appeal” by offering “a uniquely Sonoma experience of local culture, cuisine, wine, and independent retailers, while building upon the tradition of the gardens.”

For now, Raffo is again focusing on those gardens, and Riezenman is just happy to be there. “Whatever happens either way,” he said, “I love being out at Cornerstone.”