Oxbow owners plan project for Sonoma’s Cheese Factory

An architectural rendering of the proposed food marketplace project at Sonoma's Cheese Factory in daytime looking west. (COURTESY OF THE CARLIN COMPANY) 2018


Note: The city Planning Director announced Thursday afternoon, March 8, that the Planing Commission meeting would not consider the Cheese Factory proposal on its agenda, due to a last-minute request by California State Parks to have additional time to review the proposal. The item will be delayed until the March 22 meeting for consideration; other agenda items for March 8 will be heard.

Would Sonoma benefit from an Oxbow-type market on the Plaza?

On Thursday, March 8, the Sonoma Planning Commission will review the proposed renovation and redevelopment of the Sonoma Cheese Factory as a 25,000-square-foot multi-tenant food marketplace.

Developer Steve Carlin plans to save the 2 W. Spain St. orange tile façade, but gut and reconstruct the rest of the building – more than doubling its space in the process.

The idea is to recreate the Napa foodie mecca known as Oxbow Market. In fact, Carlin is the founder and managing partner of Oxbow. His other projects include the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco, Napa Farms Market at San Francisco International Airport and the Oakville Grocery.

The Cheese Factory Project would end up totaling 25,000 square feet of interior commercial space (just under Oxbow’s 30,000 square feet) and include two restaurant tenant spaces and a total of 245 indoor seats and 72 outdoor seats throughout the project.

The commercially zoned property in question consists of two parcels on the north side of the Sonoma Plaza, mid-block on Spain Street, on approximately half an acre.

The Planning Commission first approved plans relating to the renovation and expansion of the Cheese Factory property in 2014. The Commission voted unanimously at that time to allow the reconfiguration of the building to accommodate a multi-tenant “local merchant” marketplace and the demolition of a rear building element to facilitate the creation of a pedestrian walkway and courtyard, located along the west side of the site linking the Casa Grande parking lot and the Plaza.

In mid-2015, the Planning Commission unanimously approved Phases II and III which included additional demolition and new construction.

The final application that will be reviewed by the Planning Commission on Thursday combines all three phases into one unified project. The current proposal differs in that it includes entirely new construction behind the façade featuring a first floor area of approximately 14,935 square feet and a new high-ceilinged basement or “sub-floor” of 10,065 square feet. This space would be used for cheese aging and as a wine shop and wine bar.

“We want to restore this historical and authentic element of the property,” said Carlin, “using the basement to age and store cheese.”

In the new plans, the pedestrian walkway connecting the Plaza to the Casa Grande parking lot, previously approved on the west side of the site, would be relocated to the east and run alongside the Sonoma State Historic Park.

According to the plans, “The project will provide a significant community benefit to Sonoma by creating pedestrian connectivity and flow between the Sonoma Plaza, the Casa Grande Parking Lot, Depot Park, the Veterans Building and the Overlook Trail to the north.”

The Carlin Company specializes in developing marketplaces. The company’s website describes this project, which has a ground floor layout almost identical to Oxbow’s, as “a pedestrian oriented, central community gathering space that celebrates local artisan food and wine in an inviting and dynamic social setting.”

The plans note that the tenant mix will change over time but that the goal is to focus on locally owned and operated “artisan food purveyors.” While it is too early to divulge the names of the potential tenants, Carlin said he’s pleased that there had been “a lot of interest so far.”

The project has been designed by SMS Architects. It is being developed in collaboration with the Santa Monica real estate investment firm Appa Real Estate and the Viviani Family Trust.

Carlin said that the construction cost would likely be somewhat higher than Oxbow, which cost $10 million almost a decade ago. The Sonoma League for Historic Preservation announced on March 1 that they had studied the proposal, found no preservation red flags and will appear at the March 8 hearing in support of the proposal.

The Planning Commission’s review of the project next week is the final approval step for the project. Carlin said that if approved, he would begin to price out the job with local contractors and he would expect the new building to open in 2019.

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