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Plans to Renovate the Historic Silk Mill in Petaluma, California
and Turn it into a 70-room Hotel have been Abandoned

Owners Have Listed Building for Sale

By Lori A. Carter, The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

April 11, 2012--The historic red brick silk mill in Petaluma is on the market again, its owners abandoning their hotel and restaurant plan for lack of financing.

Hotelier B.B. Patel of San Mateo, who operates several Best Westerns in the state, has given up plans to renovate the 1892 Georgian Colonial Revival building that takes up an entire block along on Lakeville Street.

In 2009, Patel's group won unanimous City Council approval for zoning changes to begin retrofitting the building's unreinforced masonry walls and making other improvements.

The hotel was to have 70 rooms in the main structure, 25 in a new building and the city's first underground parking structure.

But as the economy went south, plans stalled. The 40,000-square-foot building went on the market late last month as "unpriced," said broker Brian Foster with Cassidy Turley real estate of San Rafael.

Petaluma leaders were hoping to capitalize on new revenue the project would generate from the city's hotel-occupancy tax. The silk mill was expected to bring more than $300,000 in new taxes each year, most of that going into the city's general fund.

City Economic Development Director Ingrid Alverde, charged with helping Petaluma build a sustainable economy by attracting new businesses and retaining existing ones, has been tracking the property since it went up for sale.

"It's definitely a huge disappointment that it's being sold, but on the other hand, there's a lot of buzz about it, so I'm excited to see who might be interested in buying it and what the highest and best use of it may be. It may not be a hotel."

The property formerly had a residential design before Patel's group settled on a hotel plan. The approvals run with the property, so a new owner could move forward without having to start the planning process again, senior planner Scott Duiven said.

Foster said the building has "great bones," and an impressive top floor of about 10,000 square feet of beamless open space, with windows on all four sides.

It could also be used for a brewery, wine business or something involved in the growing gourmet food or cheese market, Foster said.

"We're hoping someone within the local community steps up and buys it," he said. "That would be our preference."

"It's such an attractive piece of real estate and people can really see the potential," said City Councilman Mike Healy. "I just don't know whether a hotel is viable investment."

Hotel financing has dried up in the past few years, Foster said, making it doubly challenging to refurbish such an old building into a modern use.

The structure is on the National Register of Historic Places and the California Register of Historic Resources.

Originally built as the Carlson-Currier Silk Mills, it was the first silk mill west of the Mississippi River. The Sunset Line and Twine Co. moved into the plant in 1940, expanding from San Francisco, where it manufactured fishing line.

For more than six decades, the building was home to Sunset Line and Twine, which manufactured silk parachutes during World War II and parachute cords that went on Gemini and Apollo space missions.

Later, Kraft Tool Co., a masonry and concrete tool company based in Kansas, bought the company as a source of construction and concrete twine.

But in 2006, it moved its operations to the Midwest and the building was shuttered, falling into disrepair as broken and boarded-up windows marred its historic facade.

A proposal in 2007 to turn the building into condos died during a halt in development as the city revised its general plan.

"The best thing is for it to sell so that a new party can step in and get it closer to development," Alverde said.

Staff Writer Lori A. Carter can be reached at 762-7297 or


(c)2012 The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.)

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