Historic Silk Mill Looking for New Buyer

The Petaluma city council approved a hotel at the site in 2008, but redevelopment has lagged because of the economy.

The historic Silk Mill on Lakeville Street, which has sat vacant since 2006, is again on the market, four years after it was purchased by a Bay Area hotelier, but not developed.

Whitney Strotz, a managing partner at Cassidy Turley, which is handling the sale, says the company has already received calls of interest from wineries and food and beverage retailers, although the 37,000 square foot site could also become a multi-family housing development, retail center or a hotel.

Click here to see detailed site plans and photos of the Silk Mill

“We’ve had preliminary conversations with city and they are interested in increasing both jobs and housing in Petaluma,” Strotz said. “We’re trying to find someone who can come up with a project that makes business sense and that will preserve the façade of the building. The feedback we’ve gotten so far has been extremely encouraging.”

The former mill was built in 1892 and is on both the National Register of Historic Places and the California Register of Historic Places. The two-story brick building, done in the Georgian Colonial style, was used for silk processing and later to manufacture fishing line, silk parachutes and parachute cords for space flights, including the historic Apollo mission.

But when its last tenant, Sunset Line & Twine moved in 2006, the building was shuttered and became a magnet for the homeless who would occasionally break in to escape the cold and teenagers who vandalized the exterior. Soon after it was acquired by the Petaluma Preservation Group, a group of local investors, lead by realtor Ralph “Skip” Sommer, with a plan to convert the site into condominiums.

But the city required water-supply studies as part of the 2025 General Plan, delaying the project. Eventually the condo project fell apart, with investors reportedly collectively losing more than $1 million. (None have gone on the record because they all signed confidentiality agreements during the sale.)

In 2008, BPR Properties purchased the building for an undisclosed sum and said it would turn the former factory into a 95-room high-end hotel with an adjoining restaurant. The city council even went so far as to change land use designation from high-density to residential in 2009 in hopes of spurring redevelopment of the historic site just one block from the future SMART train station.

But BPR, led by Bay Area hotelier Bhupendra "B.B." Patel who redeveloped Berkeley's Hotel Shattuck and is behind Burlingame's Crowne Plaza Hotel, sat on the project, citing weak economic conditions and lack of available financing. The company did not return repeated calls for comment.

If the site is sold, the former silk mill—the first west of the Mississippi—may finally get the attention it deserves.

“I hope that we find a suitable buyer for it because the project (hotel) that was presented to us and the council approved was very exciting and would have offered a lot to the community,” said Petaluma Mayor Dave Glass. “It’s a project that already has a had a economic analysis done and would be ready to go…The transient occupancy taxes could really help us out.”

How would you like to see the Silk Mill redeveloped?

Jeff Muchow March 27, 2012 at 03:29 AM
It would be wonderful place for condos. As a hotel, it really lacks good pedestrian access to downtown with a pedestrian unfriendly crossing at Lakeville and poor walkways until crossing the D Street Bridge. Suitability as a retail center would depend on the parking plan.
HOPPY March 27, 2012 at 02:04 PM
Yannick A. Phillips March 27, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Can it be returned to a mill? Our mills have gone to China. It would be great to have a local mill that could produce an American made product. That would be good for the Petaluma economy. Does anyone know if any of the mill machinery inside is intact?
M March 27, 2012 at 02:50 PM
How is the pedestrian access any better for condos than a hotel? The accessibility is no different for either type of project. Improving the pedestrian/bicycling accessibility no matter what type of project should be required by the city.
M March 27, 2012 at 02:51 PM
Great idea!
M March 27, 2012 at 02:53 PM
I believe the machinery is gone. They had the PEF Bash fundraiser there a few years back
Glennis Dolce March 27, 2012 at 03:17 PM
how about something like the Torpedo Factory in Old Alexandria VA? http://www.torpedofactory.org/ make it a mixed use condo with ground floor arts/studio rentals and classes with retail and dining. a section devoted to the historical aspect of the building. aww...just dreamin'
Bill Fishman March 27, 2012 at 04:55 PM
Maybe Friedman Brothers would be interested!
Mitch March 27, 2012 at 05:38 PM
I like what someone posted on the Patch Facebook page... A market similar to the one at the ferry building in San Francisco,
Stinky March 27, 2012 at 07:05 PM
I'd like to see a local mill. I feel our economy would benefit from manufacturing for national and export sales, and a mill would provide some local jobs.
Karina Ioffee March 27, 2012 at 07:31 PM
Thanks everyone for your ideas. I recently visited Napa's Oxbow Market (created by the same person behind SF's Ferry Building) and think something similar would be a wonderful addition to our community. As for reviving the mill, the equipment is long gone and the zoning is mixed use and not industrial. Although worth asking Cassidy Turley about. Stay tuned!
David Keller March 28, 2012 at 07:57 AM
These are great suggestions, particularly the mixed use models of the Torpedo Factory (markets, retail and residences, Alexandria VA) and the Ferry Building (markets and offices) in SF for a building like this. Until it is reused or repurposed, however, the Silk Mill building must be tightly secured against intrusions and vandalism. Way too many of these 19th Century brick factory buildings in New England and throughout the East wind up being totally lost to fires - both arson and accidental. The fire sprinkler and alarm systems must be kept functioning in full operational modes, and inspected regularly. Are they on and working? The fencing, windows and doors must be kept secure. I'd hate to have our historic landmark treasure lost due to negligence on the part of the owners or the city (in its oversight roles). Can you follow up on these protections?
Karina Ioffee March 28, 2012 at 04:44 PM
I have asked the fire Marshall about this and he said the mill has working sprinklers. However there have been several break ins, so that remains a concern
David Keller March 28, 2012 at 04:55 PM
Thanks for checking on the sprinkler system. I hope that the building security can be improved - break ins can lead to careless use of fire (for candles, heating, cooking) by transients. The fuel of wooden floors and timbers is immense in this building, making extinguishing any fires that do start very difficult and dangerous.
Glennis Dolce March 28, 2012 at 06:13 PM
these days it is not all that expensive to install security cameras that can be monitored remotely even from your iphone. seems it would be worth it to keep the building monitored and somewhat protected.
brandAnonymous March 28, 2012 at 10:28 PM
it should become a centre for creativity and personal growth!
LongTimeLocal March 29, 2012 at 05:47 AM
It was planned to be a hotel and condo building (requiring some new construction). It was nixed by the council making it untenable, I think because they claimed there wasn't enough water available (yet the Target and Deer Creek centers somehow seem to be OK). One day we'll see some support by the city for creative ideas that retain historical buildings but I'm not holding my breath...
Yannick A. Phillips April 02, 2012 at 03:29 AM
Karina...please let us know if there is ANY chance it can be structed for a mix use with the mill being the substantial operation. Have lots of (young) interested folks in the clothing/cotton farming industry that would welcome resurrecting this mill.
Karina Ioffee April 02, 2012 at 05:13 AM
Hi Yannick. My understanding is that it would cost quite a bit of money ($20,000-$25,000 by some estimates) to apply for a rezoning of the mill. In addition, as has previously been stated, the mill does not have any manufacturing equipment left. So whoever is interested would have to purchase the mill (current selling price not disclosed, but in 2008 it sold for $5.6 million) and then pay for the rezoning and then for all the rehabilitation of the inside as well as the equipment. I would encourage interested parties to get in touch with Cassidy Turley, the company handling the sale, for more information.
Chad Daniels November 16, 2012 at 12:41 AM
I was there yesterday (11-13-12) taking pictures. Electricians and carpenters were inside securing alarm system and re-enforcing from the inside. I had an opportunity to take few pictures from the inside. What a beautiful building! I'm glad to see the city of Petaluma doing all it can to reopen site. It would be a terrible loss if nothing is done to the property. The bulk of the machinery is gone as you stated in other posts, but there are still some large pieces of equipment left and a few smaller ones as well. Good luck to all involved. Sometimes it's not about the money as much as it should be about preservation.
Jay November 25, 2012 at 10:22 PM
Marin Headlands Hostel above Sausalito (formerly Fort Barry) is the perfect prototype. That place is usually packed to the brim, travellers from all over the world, especially groups from Europe and Asia. At $26 per head in the dorms, its actually usually sold-out; a very profitable operation... Sonoma county would be their next stop, if only a great similar affordable option would be available. The City of Petaluma could even be part-owner (well, maybe) to be expediting the paperwork and process...
Karina Ioffee November 26, 2012 at 02:51 AM
Interesting idea, Jay, but whoever purchases the property will need to invest millions of dollars (at least $5 million, is one estimate I've heard) to gut the inside of the mill and put in running water, etc. since there are not bathrooms. All in all, a considerable undertaking, especially for a city that is has lost so much revenue from its general fund over the past 6 years.
Jay November 29, 2012 at 12:00 AM
Hi Karina, if renovation for a hotel is $5M (plumbing etc for 100 rooms) then figure $2M for a hostel. Just two large shower rooms on each floor, dorms, kitchen; it doesn't need to be high-end. In San Francisco about a dozen hostels are booked summers. Those folks google search for similar, and there isn't any up north; Petaluma would be a next stop ... Say 200 dorm beds sold-out for 5 months, covers the mortgage.


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