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Marin Community Foundation Picks Hamilton Hangar for Headquarters

After 15 years at Larkspur Landing, the Marin Community Foundation is moving its headquarters to a renovated former Air Force hangar at Novato's Hamilton Landing office complex.

Foundation President Thomas Peters said the move, expected by July 1, will increase the foundation's administrative and public meeting room space by at least a third, and save "hundreds of thousands of dollars that will then be available instead for community grants" over the life of the multi-year lease.

"The absolute fundamental principle is that we're seeking to maximize our grant-making capacity in the community and hold our administrative expenses to a minimum," Peters said.

He said the foundation, which administers $1.15 billion in assets primarily from the Buck Trust, is still planning to ultimately build a headquarters building in downtown San Rafael next to the Falkirk Cultural Center on Fifth Avenue.

However, construction bids for the San Rafael building came in too high, so the agency will wait until market conditions are more favorable, he said.

"I'm elated," said Novato Mayor John Mani. "This will validate the fact that Novato is an 'in city.'

"Marin Community Foundation is a very influential organization in my view," he said. "Now Novato will have the unique privilege of housing three of the four main Buck Trust entities - the Buck Institute for Age Research, the Buck Institute for Education (in Bel Marin Keys) and Marin Community Foundation.

"We think that's a triumph for our city," he added.

The fourth key Buck Trust-related agency, the Marin Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Other Drug Problems, is in San Rafael.

The Marin Community Foundation was established in January 1987 to administer the Buck Trust. The trust was created from a bequest by the late Ross philanthropists Leonard and Beryl Buck, and is earmarked for aid to needy Marin residents and Marin human services agencies.

Haden Ongaro and Brian Eisberg of Orion Partners Ltd. in San Rafael were leasing agents in the foundation lease transaction, the terms of which - including the length of the lease and the rental rate - were kept private.

The foundation, which employs 40 people, will occupy the entire second floor - or roughly 25,000 square feet - of Hangar 5, one of several available for lease from Hamilton Landing developer and co-owner Barker Pacific Group. The agency's space at Larkspur Landing, across from the Larkspur Ferry Terminal and next to Marin Airporter, is only about 15,000 square feet. The lease for that space expires June 30.

The extra 10,000 square feet at the Novato site will allow the foundation to create eight or nine public meeting rooms for free use by community nonprofits for board or planning meetings, Peters said. The Larkspur office houses three meeting rooms, which Peters said are in use "seven days a week, morning through night."

"That sounds like great news," said Stefanie Willard, Hamilton Town Center manager. "We only have one little meeting room upstairs for public meeting space - with 30 or 40 people in it, we're really squished - and we have homeowners' meetings with 250 people.

"It's a large tenant and a really active group," she added. "We really want to fill those hangars up, and this gives it a lot more energy and activity."

Michael D. Barker, head of Barker Pacific Group, said he was "very pleased" with the foundation as a tenant, and said he thought it would improve exposure for the office complex.

"They will certainly bring more people into the project that would otherwise not be aware of it," he said. Four of seven 56,000-square-foot hangar buildings have been renovated, and - with the foundation included - are about 50 percent leased. The hangar project will ultimately span 553,000 square feet, including three more renovated hangars and three more new buildings.

The Marin Community Foundation's hangar is across the parking lot from Hangar 4, which is fully leased, and which houses upscale garden equipment retailer Smith & Hawken Ltd., among other tenants.

Barker said public transit to the foundation offices will be available with a free shuttle bus. The shuttle connects with Golden Gate Transit buses at a bus pad near the Marin Airporter depot at the Novato Marriott Hotel, he said.

Peters said although the future San Rafael building would have the ultimate public access because it would be pedestrian-friendly, the Hamilton Landing complex "has at least equal accessibility to what we have now (in Larkspur).

"Virtually everyone who comes to the foundation now comes by car," Peters added.

Elissa Giambastiani, chief executive of the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce, said she is glad the agency is still planning a permanent move to San Rafael. "We hope their sojourn in Hamilton is a short one," she said. "We will just wait until they return."

Peters said he and his staff were eager for the move to Novato.

"Many people in Marin have thought Novato is at the far reaches of the charted universe," Peters said. "It's only 10 minutes from where I'm sitting right now (in Larkspur).

"People tend to think of Novato as a lot farther away than it is," he said.

Staffers are looking forward to working with plentiful natural light through the former hangar's windows and taking advantage of Hamilton amenities such as a bike and hiking trail along the bay, he said. The foundation has hired architect Mark Cavagnero, a Marin resident who created the Rafael Film Center and Headlands Center for the Arts restorations, to design the new office interior.

"Marin Community Foundation is the kind of tenancy we think makes sense for a community like Hamilton," Barker said yesterday. "Hamilton is a new community of housing, recreation and work space, and the foundation, because of their involvement as a community service organization, seems to fit in with the philosophy of what Hamilton is about."

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