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Businesses Flock to Former Hangars

Birkenstock, Oracle and more moving in to refurbished digs

Hangar-come-office development Hamilton Landing is attracting some big name tenants, but the real story might be the buildings themselves.

“We're probably the ‘greenest' Class-A office space in the North Bay,” said Hamilton Landing manager Jim Albrecht. “We usually get passed over in terms of the investment we made before being ‘green' was PC.”

Owner Barker Pacific Group, which bought the seven hangars in 1998, has invested more than $100 million into turning the hangars into high-class, efficient and innovative office space, said company spokesman Gary Pike.

The investment is just beginning to make sense.

Last September Visual Concepts Entertainment, a movie visual effects company, took over Hangar 10. Now Birkenstock Distribution USA is moving across Novato into Hangar 6, Smith & Hawken - at Hamilton Landing since 2001 - is expanding, and host of other companies including Oracle and Sony ImageWorks have signed leases.

That's nearly 287,000 square feet of office space leased, all of it top quality Class-A rated, with 183,000 square feet more to be renovated.

Barker Pacific acts as property manager, tenant improvement contractor and developer - almost unique in the commercial real estate development world.

“We're very concerned with keeping our tenants happy,” said Barker Pacific founder Michael Barker. “We're not an absentee owner.”

The project could have floundered when the dot-com bubble burst just as the first phase was completed.

“We completed hangars 3, 4 and 5 in 2001. It was all speculative,” Albrecht said, meaning there were no tenants signed before construction began. “A lot of people thought Michael Barker was crazy.”

Crazy for renovating, not replacing historical buildings. Crazy for using ‘green' technology before the term became a catch-phrase.

The floor is one example of a green solution to a development problem. The concrete floors in the hangars were wildly uneven. So they built raised concrete panel flooring, allowing the ground floor to be even. All the air circulation and wiring is under-floor, and the panels pop out easily, making changes in wiring and layout easy.

That means less renovation waste when new tenants reconfigure the space - no ripping up flooring or tearing up drywall to re-wire.

And the underfloor air circulation is more efficient than traditional ceiling-down systems.

The Marin Community Foundation was one of the first tenants.

“We were homesteaders,” joked foundation president Thomas Peters. “It was a literal blank canvas for our architect to work to, to design offices that would really work not only for our staffing, but also a significant amount of community meeting space.”

The foundation's offices - which take up the entire second floor of Hangar 5 - overlook the old air base runway, soon to be a new wetland.

It is built around a central atrium - all the hangars have a central area two stories high, and second floor space at both ends.

Peters' ‘blank canvas' became an open interior design with curving walls and glass-enclosed meeting rooms. Local art and photography exhibits attract visitors from across the county, and the metal framing overhead adds interest.

“Even lifelong residents in Marin say they've never taken that turn to come into Hamilton,” Peters said. The hangars carry a sense of history with them, he said, even though the runway they served is now crumbling behind two levees.

“The setting helps (clients) know we're here on a permanent basis,” Peters said. “That permanence is really meaningful.”

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