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Business Soars at Hamilton

Marin County, CA — A former military airplane hangar seems an unlikely place for the private sector to call home, but business is booming at Hamilton Landing in Novato.

With the opening of four renovated hangars since 2000, Hamilton Landing has welcomed the likes of upscale garden product retailer Smith and Hawken, the Marin Community Foundation, and more recently, the YMCA, which together with about a dozen others, put its occupancy rate at about 75 percent.

With things taking off, so to speak, co-owners Barker Pacific Group and Prudential Real Estate Investors plan to press on with the renovation of an additional three hangars to make way for more offices in the next few years, part of a $100 million conversion of Hamilton Air Force Base, which also includes housing and retail development.

When complete, the office space will total 552,000 square feet and will span about 22 acres, making it the largest multi-tenant development! in Marin.

"Hamilton Landing has been very popular because it allows a clear path for growth and has an abundance of amenities," said Brian Eisberg, principal of Orion Partners Limited and leasing agent for Hamilton Landing. "As it gets more built out, people like it more and more. It has an ascending velocity. Given the fundamentally negative office market that the Bay Area has today, Hamilton Landing has done extremely well in terms of absorption."

With monthly rents from $2.50 per square foot, the Class A offices at Hamilton Landing, which are sandwiched between Highway 101 and the San Pablo Bay wetlands, have attracted businesses ranging from consultants to charitable organizations looking for competitive rental rates and a modern work environment.

And it is not just Hamilton employees who are enjoying the benefits of the new setup.

Added spending from Hamilton businesses has spurred the local economy, city leaders said.

"The overall effect is very promising," said Alan Aranha, chief executive officer of Novato Chamber of Commerce. "It provides high-quality jobs to persons in our community. It is a good opportunity for companies in transition, they can look at good space to utilize. Since it provides jobs, those people will continue to spend money in Novato, which relates to sales tax and improved services. It gives us a domino effect of sustaining a good economy."

Aside from Smith and Hawken, the YMCA and the community foundation, which administers the $1 billion Buck Trust benefiting Marin County, Hamilton Landing is home to a host of businesses. They include Inserve, which provides sales personnel for the medical technology industry; DeSantis Capital Management, an investment company; Brown and Brown of California, an insurance firm; the Pride Institute, professional education and consultant for dentists; Barker Pacific, a commercial real estate developer; Scene 7, a software developer; Royston and Associates, an investment firm; Psychological Associates, a professional practice; Cytograft Tissue Engineering, a biotechnology company; Spatialight Inc., which develops high-definition television technology; Nihilistic Software Inc., a computer game developer; and Herrerias and Associates, an executive recruiting firm.

Marin Individual Practice Association, which generated $28 million in revenue last year, acting on the behalf of doctors in negotiating contracts with health plans, was one of the first businesses to relocate its 30 employees to the second floor of Hangar 4 at Hamilton Landing in 2000.

"We moved from Larkspur because the space was conducive for our business and the price was better than Larkspur," said Joel Criste, chief executive officer of Marin Individual Practice Association. "The majority of our employees lived north as opposed to south. At our last place of employment, we were split on two floors."

With all of its employees now united on one floor, company cohesion has improved, Criste said. "It improves communication and collaboration," Criste said. "It works well for large group meetings and I think everyone enjoys the surroundings."

The key to the Hamilton's success has as much to do with the interior as the outside amenities, said Richard J. Johnson, executive vice president of finance of Barker Pacific Group.

"It is green, quiet, and there are recreational facilities," he said, adding that employees can enjoy running and biking on nearby trails and a dike along the wetlands.

Indeed, a short drive beyond Hamilton's main gate down massive palm-tree lined streets - reminders of the former military base - some 500 employees trickle into the modern office complex, replete with manicured lawns and wildlife feasting in the nearby wetlands.

Before it was closed in 1976, Hamilton Air Force Base was home to 20,000 military personnel and B-17 flying fortresses during World War II, and served as a flight training base for U.S. Army Reserve pilots.

"People like the character of the hangars with the preservation aspect," Johnson said.

After acquiring the hangars and surrounding land for $10 million in 1999, Barker Pacific Group made a point of keeping the skeleton of each structure intact, but installed floor-to-ceiling tinted windows for walls, and a mezzanine level surrounding a 38-foot-high central atrium. Each hangar has a tech-savvy, raised floor system, which houses the heating and air-conditioning and electrical and cable wiring. This allows employees to control the climate at their individual desks.

Following the opening several weeks ago of its facility on the first floor of Hangar 3, the YMCA has signed up about 260 members. Half live in the nearby 2,000 residential units, 25 percent work in the office complex, and the remaining 25 percent are from Novato, according to Jane Belote, associate executive director, Novato YMCA at Hamilton. Membership rates range from $49 per adult to $79 per family.

Although the military base has taken on an entirely different look, its community feel from days past continues to thrive, perhaps thanks in part to the YMCA.

"It is a unique situation because people are right here," Belote said. "The Y is such a part of this community."

Belote added that she would like to see the gym's membership expand to 1,800 in the coming months.

Joining the YMCA in Hangar 3 by the end of the year is Cytograft Tissue Engineering, Inc. a biotech company developing technology for use in heart operations. Like others, the company decided to relocate from Bel Marin Keys for both the amenities and the space of the hangars.

"We needed more space to build a 'clean room' to support clinical trials, and the campus environment at Hamilton Landing is fresh and interesting - a place to inspire our staff and allow them to be creative and focused," said Todd McAllister, chief executive officer of Cytograft Tissue Engineering.

"Hamilton Landing provides us with the amenities our employees enjoy."

Contact Jennifer Gollan via e-mail at

Marin Independent Journal. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Media NewsGroup, Inc. by NewsBank, Inc.

Record Number: 1725393

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