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The National Park Service Signs 60-year Lease with Developers for the $95 million Conversion of Fort Baker into
 a Bayside Lodge and Retreat; Former Fort was Built to guard the Entrance to San Francisco Bay
By Mark Prado, The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

March 2, 2008 - --Marin's newest luxury hotel and retreat center will open this summer, but there's a twist: It's in the middle of a national park.

The complex, dubbed Cavallo Point -- The Lodge at Golden Gate, will have a "soft" opening May 1 -- for invited guests only -- and will open to the general public in early summer.

It won't be cheap. Rates will start at $225 a night for a room, with suites starting at $400.

The hotel has been built at Fort Baker, in the middle of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. National Park Service officials have maintained the project is needed to generate revenue for maintenance of historic buildings at the site.

The property will include 142 rooms in several buildings across the Fort Baker site, and resembles a college campus more than a big-city hotel. A wellness center, bicycle rentals, hiking tours, evening lectures and morning yoga classes are also part of the layout.

"You will also have a restaurant, your bar (named Farley, after the comic strip by the late Marin cartoonist Phil Frank), a cooking school and meeting room, among other amenities," said Sausalito resident Pierre Zreik, general manager of Cavallo Point, as he stood at the site that offers eye-popping views of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

The National Park Service has signed a 60-year lease with developers for the $95 million conversion of Fort Baker into a bayside lodge and retreat .

The imminent opening comes after a contentious debate between the city of Sausalito and the park service. The city worried cars from the hotel would cause gridlock in the area. That forced the park service to scale back the plan from an original 350-room vision.

"We are looking forward to the opening, and we hope they are successful," Sausalito Councilman Paul Albritton said. "We still want to work with the developer and the park service on an integrated transportation plan. But we see a potential economic benefit of people from Cavallo Point coming to downtown Sausalito."

Construction at the site began in December 2006 and has consisted of work on the interior of the Fort Baker buildings, former residences, offices and meeting rooms constructed by the Army between 1901 and 1907.

The exterior of the buildings will remain essentially the same; even tin ceilings have been taken down, painstakingly cleaned and put back.

"Those people who worked with the tin were simply amazing," said San Anselmo resident Tom Sargent of Equity Community Builders, which is developing Cavallo Point. Passport Resorts will then manage the site.

Those tin ceilings are prevalent in many of the older buildings that have been revamped into 68 modern rooms while retaining a majority of their original features.

In addition, 74 new rooms have been built on a ridge just above the semicircle of old buildings situated around a former parade ground.

"Look at that view," Zreik said, as he looked out one of the new room's glass fronts, which framed the Golden Gate Bridge. "We expect Hollywood to come here and use these rooms for movies."

Another feature of Cavallo Point will be the Institute at Fort Baker, which will be run by the park service and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.

The former 200-seat chapel, tucked on a hill just behind the main buildings, will be used for lecture programs and morning yoga classes.

One major change will be the absence of cars. People staying at the center will register at the lobby and their cars will be parked valet-style in lots on site.

"We are excited," Sargent said. "You can't beat this site. We think it will do very well."

Read more Sausalito/Marin City stories at the IJ's Sausalito/Marin City page.

Contact Mark Prado via e-mail at mprado@marinij.com

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To see more of The Marin Independent Journal or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.marinij.com/.

Copyright (c) 2008, The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif.

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