Sebastiani wins bid on old firehouse

August Sebastiani, president of The Other Guys wine and spirits company, said Wednesday he is excitedly awaiting a signed contract for the sale of the old firehouse building at 32 Patten St., after his bid for the property was accepted by the city on June 23. The sale amount was $1.65 million.

The building has been on the auction block, figuratively or literally, since 2008.

Originally built as a combined police and fire station in 1948, after both departments outgrew their allotted quadrants at City Hall, the Patten Street building was pressed into service to house city operations after the bottom floor of City Hall caught fire on a hot August night in 1980.

In 1987, city staff returned to Patten Street while seismic retrofitting was done on City Hall under the dictates of state law, and in 2007, the police department moved back in temporarily while police offices on First Street West were undergoing a floor-to-roof renovation.

The building has about 9,700 square feet of usable space on a .42-acre lot. Zoned for mixed use, there are no restrictions on what happens on the site unless the existing building is razed. Were that to happen, requirements for affordable housing would kick in.

The city sold the property to its redevelopment agency, but ownership went into limbo when the state disbanded those agencies in 2011.

According to state Department of Finance rules, the property had to be sold as soon as possible, for the highest use and the most money, most of which would end up in state pockets, but for about the 12 percent interest the city was allowed to retain in the site.

Prior to the dissolution of redevelopment agencies, the city had been in negotiations with Foothill Partners, a Sacramento-area development company that held a series of meetings in the building so that interested parties – notably including Patten Street neighbors – could respond to and offer advice on possible plans for the site. Neighbors expressed the most concern about parking impacts on adjacent streets from retail uses like restaurants and stores.

At one point, Peet’s Coffee expressed interest in at least some space on the property, but backed off in part because of parking and neighborhood issues. They subsequently opened a shop nearby on Broadway.

Foothill Partners was not among the four companies submitting bids for the property. The other three were Caymus Capital, Mann Property Company and Frank de Michele.

While the city was negotiating the sale prior to redevelopment dissolution, much discussion went into an appropriate “gateway” use that would present an appealing invitation to arriving visitors, while simultaneously luring shoppers down Broadway from the Plaza. Ideas raised then included creation of a pocket park, perhaps with a water feature, where pedestrians could sit and relax.

That element probably won’t figure into Sebastiani’s plans for the property, at least not any time soon, but he said this week that he wants to move in, “draw a breath and sit with it” for a while before beginning to discuss future uses. Current TOG offices are at 35 Maple St., a few blocks away.

“It’s as close to turnkey as you’re going to find for our current needs,” Sebastiani said of the move. “We’ll continue to operate our business there in the exact same manner.”

Sebastiani added that over the subsequent 30 to 60 months “we’ll put together a larger plan” following meetings with neighbors and city officials to see what uses would have public and city support.

He acknowledged that some sort of tasting room is a possibility that could be explored. Asked about his longstanding interest in a brewery or brewpub, Sebastiani said he has no concrete plans for such a facility, but may look into it “as an opportunity for me to branch out personally in a new direction.”

He also said that part of the Patten Street property may be utilized as warehouse space. “Most of our wine is stored in American Canyon,” he explained, “it would be nice to have some close by” for when the need arises.

City Manager Carol Giovanatto said the decision to choose the Sebastiani bid was based “strictly on price.” She added that she is in the process of drawing up a purchase agreement, which will then have to be reviewed and approved by the Oversight Board of the former redevelopment agency. Once that’s done, the sales agreement requires final approval by the state Department of Finance, which can potentially take a long time.

“Their website says 45 days,” Giovanatto said of the DOF review policy. “But it can take as long as they deem necessary.”

The city manager sees no red flags in the process. “I feel about as secure as I can be. It’s about the most straightforward deal there could be. I know they’re (TOG) ready to hit the ground running.”

The Other Guys is an independent offshoot of Don & Sons, the negociant wine company founded by August Sebastiani’s father, Don Sebastiani. The Other Guys currently has six wine labels, as well as Masterson’s Rye Whiskey, Uncle Val’s Gin and Kirk and Sweeney Rum.

Sebastiani said he feels uniquely positioned to make good use of the property and to appreciate its gateway status. He said as a legacy resident, as a businessman and as a former city council member, “I’m very excited about the building. There are a lot of buildings in town with my name on them that I have nothing to do with.”

Whatever the final plan for the site will be, Sebastiani vowed, “We’re not going to do things on the cheap. We’re going to do it right.”