Sprucing up the Springs

Rico Martin wants to bring a little color to the businesses lining Highway 12 in the Springs.

Actually, Martin wants to bring a lot of color to businesses in the Springs.

Martin is a Sebastopol-based designer whose vision could transform the drab Highway 12 corridor into a montage of color. And he’s already got eight businesses that want his help.

The eight businesses that want Martin to transform their storefronts have applied to the county’s façade improvement program for funding for the projects. The façade improvement program, which started in the Springs with the Springs Redevelopment Agency, lives on despite the demise of the Springs Redevelopment Agency because the county’s Board of Supervisors decided to fund it this fiscal year with $500,000.

The program is first come, first served, and it’s countywide instead of just for the Springs.

Martin started with the interior at La Michoacana, the ice cream parlor on Highway 12. After designing the interior, he was going to do the exterior, but instead did both the interior and exterior of a second La Michoacana in Novato.

“Jane Raymond, the owner of Plain Janes, next door to La Michoacana, wanted me to design for her too,” Martin said. “And it started growing from there.”

Martin met with other business owners and they too were enthused with what they saw.

“I showed them (photos of) Hispanic and Southwestern communities,” he said. “When you brighten a store with color, it attracts business,” he said.

Martin called the two-mile strip of Highway 12 “gray.”

“You want to attract attention to the business,” he said. “You’ve got 30,000 drivers a day … you want them to stop at the flowers.”

“This is a region – not just a highway,” he said. “You want to create a destination that people want to come to.”

Martin started in design in New York City in the 1980s and he was the head creative director at HBO. Along the way, he created the Cinemax logo and brand, posters and other national campaigns.

At one point, he was designing stage shows. He quit and went to Europe creating magic shows.

After Europe, he settled in San Francisco designing nightclubs and children’s toys, among others. He started a multi-media business in Sausalito, and then met a woman, they started moving north and discovered Sebastopol, where they’ve been for the past 14 years.

“Of all the places I’ve lived, this is the only place that’s really felt like home,” he said.

Martin called the façade design program “a labor of love.”

“This is an important project,” he said. “It’s helping a community that will benefit from it.”

Martin has a team of engineers, muralists and artists who will be working on the project. “This is a crew of experts – the best in their fields,” he said. “They’ll be working for a lot less than they normally would. They’re basically donating their time.”

Currently, some of the projects are going through the permitting process at the county.

“We could start as soon as the beginning to the middle of August,” he said.

And Martin said there’s going to be a documentary made about the project.

So far, the businesses that have paperwork in with the county for the façade improvement program includes La Michoacana, Plain Janes, El Brinquito, la Tienda Iniquez, Sonoma Salon, Los Primos, The Hairitage and Armando’s Auto Center.

John Haig, capital programs manager with the Community Development Commission, said the county has received applications from eight businesses in the Springs that are interested in façade improvement.

The PRMD, the Permit and Resource Management Department, has to review the designs, Haig said.

“We received about 20 from all over the county,” he said. “But we’ve got eight (from the Springs) that are all moving through the process. Some are in design review while others are in permitting.”

If the project goes the way Martin envisions it, the Springs could be a brighter place before too long.

See Martin's website at richimage.com.