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Companies find a home at Hamilton

Business at Hamilton Landing it taking off. Hamilton Landing, a Novato business park open since 2000, has added several new tenants in recent months, including two last week.

Old military airplane hangars don't automatically convey architectural and technological innovation in office space, but looks can be deceiving.

"As I've told my colleagues across the nation, it has a 19th century exterior and a 21st century interior," said Thomas Peters, president and CEO of the Marin Community Foundation, the Novato business park's second largest tenant.

Hamilton Landing, located on the former Hamilton Field military base east of Highway 101 in southern Novato, is continuing to undergo a major overhaul for residential and business uses.

The business park is flanked by the Bayside, Hamilton Park, Traditions and Southgate subdivisions at what will eventually be the eastern boundary of Hamilton Field. The base's former runways are to be converted to wetlands.

When completed, Hamilton Landing - which currently has nearly two dozen tenants - would become Marin's largest multi-tenant business park with 550,000 square feet of office space on 22 acres.

Four of the seven hangars have been fully renovated and more than 80 percent of that 220,000 square feet of space is occupied. Co-owners Barker Pacific Group and Prudential Real Estate Investors also have the option of building two new office buildings, as well.

Two new tenants signed leases for space on Wednesday, according to Haden Ongaro of Orion Partners, the exclusive leasing agent for Hamilton Landing.

Diamics, a biotechnology distribution and development company, will take 8,500 square feet on the second floor of Hangar 6.

Eagle LMS, an athletic apparel and footwear company, will have offices and a showroom in 3,000 square feet of Hangar 3. Current clients include Sergio Takini and Hawaiian Tropic footwear.

"We looked at a lot of locations and this one is just perfect," said Melissa Page, Eagle LMS brand manager. "The place has character and history. It's its own self- contained community and you don't feel like you're in an office complex. There's the Y(MCA), the library and you can go running. It's great."

Ceilings in the office space range from 11 to 38 feet, with Eagle LMS having the latter height, which Page said gives the space a loft feel.

At $2.50 per square foot, Ongaro said Hamilton Landing is in the mid-range for Class A office space in this market. A lack of tenant turnover or subleasing to date speaks to its popularity, he said.

"There's a perception that it's just big open spaces, but we can do 1,500 square feet. It's pretty diverse," Ongaro said. "And it's one of the most creative spaces in the market. People like the idea that it's a reuse and not building on a vacant piece of land."

Smith & Hawken, the upscale gardening retailer, is Hamilton Landing's largest tenant and is considering an expansion. It moved into about 34,000 square feet in Hangar 4 in April 2000.

Other large space tenants include: SpatiaLight Inc., which develops high-definition television technology; the YMCA; and Marin Individual Practice Group, which negotiates contracts on health plans on behalf of doctors.

The business park spaces have features that make executives "swoon," according to Peters.

Marin Community Foundation was able to expand its space from a "woefully insufficient" 15,000 square feet to an open 25,000 square feet, a good share of which is used on six conference rooms of varying sizes used frequently by community groups for meetings and other functions.

Peters said he also reduced by half the square footage cost for the foundation's administrative quarters by moving its 40 employees from Larkspur to the entire second floor of Hangar 5 two and a half years ago. The foundation is in the midst of a five-year lease an Peters said he expects to extend the stay for another five years.

"When I first announced the decision to move to Novato, I faced some rather heated criticism," Peters said. "As you know, to people in the rest of Marin, Novato is considered the far reaches of the charted universe. And that was a concern to us because we wanted the county's foundation to be in an accessible place."

Peters said he quickly learned that his worrying was for naught. He estimates the number of people taking advantage of the foundation's facilities has increased threefold.

Part of the reason may be the compelling design, architecture and artwork, changed quarterly as curated by the Marin Arts Council. Peters said Mill Valley architect Mark Cavagnero, known for his work on the Rafael Theater and Marin Civic Center, considered the barren space a blank canvas.

Cavagnero installed a dense plastic cover reminiscent of opaque glass in a wave-type pattern to cover up an atrium overlooking the lower level. The effect is intended to blend in with the future view out of eastern windows when the former airfield runways are converted to wetlands.

The bridge that people use as a shortcut to get across the center space becomes a makeshift podium for mass gatherings.

Many visitors have said the high ceiling and natural light are conducive to reflective thinking, but its the floor below that gets Peters' administrative juices flowing.

Floor panels are raised by nearly a foot to house power, telecommunications and air supply systems. Energy is better used by heat coming from below rather than a traditional overhead system. Access for servicing and realignment is also easier than the norm.

"Executives think about how they can reconfigure their office space to accommodate their changing needs," Peters said. "I can change a whole set up in day where that would be impossible in a hard wall situation."

Until recently, one had to leave Hamilton Field proper to have a meal, with the McDonald's on Nave Drive at North Hamilton Parkway being the closest option. The first post-military eatery on the former base folded shortly after opening a few years back.

Hamilton Cafe, which specializes in southern European dishes, opened recently on Palm Drive in the heart of Hamilton Field and a new eatery is on tap for Hamilton Landing itself.

Leela's Deli Express is expected to open on the ground floor of Hangar 6 within a month, according to Lisa Dolon who, along with Lauren Mahler, will be an owner-operator.

"Every time we're there people are asking when we're going to open," Dolon said. "We had been looking for a business park without some place to eat so this worked out perfectly."

The partners will serve all comers, but their "gourmet to go" is targeted for those working steps away looking for breakfast and lunch. It will be open weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. once construction is completed.

Menu items will include coffee drinks, bagels, fresh fruit, salads, sandwiches, soups and quiche.

Other newer tenants include Hamilton Cleaners, a dry cleaner; Cytograft Tissue Engineering Inc., a biotech company developing technology for use in heart operations; and Northbay Family Homes and Novato Community Partners LLC, a sales and management office for some of the Hamilton Field housing.

Contact Con Garretson via e-mail at

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