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Final stage of Hamilton Landing to begin

LEED-certified building will crown successful base conversion

NOVATO – As military base conversions go, Hamilton Landing can pat itself on the back. In addition to a full range of housing options, the commercial sector boasts close to 100 percent occupancy, putting it among a rarified few in the nation.

Now, developer Barker Pacific Group is preparing to break ground on the final stage of the business park: a LEED-certified 58,000-square-foot office building to be completed by 2009.

Designed by Nadel Architects Inc. of Los Angeles, the building needs only to be approved by Novato's Design Review board to proceed.

"We're delighted that Barker Pacific is ready to move forward with it," said Novato Community Development Director Dave Wallace. "I'm especially excited to hear that it'll be green from the ground up."

Also, this week Barker Pacific kicks off renovations that will turn the last two empty airplane hangars into cutting-edge office and film studio space. The developers aren't revealing the new tenant. But it is widely reported to be Imagemovers Digital, a 3-D animation studio acquired by Disney.

The two 120,000-square-foot hangars will reportedly house upwards of 300 Imagemovers Digital employees, the largest tenant on the 28-acre site when the renovations are complete, likely in 2009.

"Last year was a turning point for Hamilton Landing," said Michael Barker, managing director of Barker Pacific.

"Birkenstock moved its headquarters here following Take Two Interactive, a video game producer and currently our largest tenant. Also Oracle, Sony Imageworks and the Toys for Bob game designer moved in."

Another new arrival is Dragnet Solutions, a provider of biometric security systems for financial institutions.

They're among 34 high-tech, biotech, entertainment and retail companies and nonprofits that have moved to the former air force base during the 20 years the hangars and adjoining land have been owned by Barker Pacific.

Across the country, nearly 100 former military bases are undergoing conversion to housing, business, industrial and mixed-use developments. But the transition is seldom smooth.

At Fort Ord on the Monterey Bay, only a fraction of an ambitious redevelopment plan has been completed because the base cuts across four different municipal jurisdictions and about 62 federal and local agencies want a voice in its development.

Hamilton Landing also languished after the U.S. Air Force decommissioned it in 1974 and returned most of it to the city of Novato. For 15 years, the partially abandoned facility was the subject of various development plans brought forward by officials and public referendums, none of which came to fruition.

By 1993, the formation of the New Hamilton Partnership by Pacific Union and The Martin Group – as well as the retreat of the Navy, which threatened to sell its own portion of the property used as a Coast Guard station to private interests – were the catalysts for development to move forward.

By the time Barker Pacific acquired the hangars, Novato had approved a business park and the mix of low-income and market-rate housing that have turned Hamilton Landing into a vibrant community by the bay.

"We had the option of dismantling the hangars, but we're glad we didn't," said Mr. Barker.

"The location is a draw, but businesses come to Hamilton for its architecturally and environmentally advanced buildings."

What was initially a building challenge – with 50-year-old uneven slabs of concrete floor eroded by heavy use – became an asset when architects decided to install raised flooring.

That allowed all air conditioning, electric cabling and other utilities to be installed beneath the floor rather than in walls, so occupants can easily adapt interior space to their needs.

"The Gap headquarters in San Bruno pioneered that concept, and we toured it before beginning our own project," Mr. Barker said.

All air is drawn constantly from the outside, a much healthier alternative to recycling it within sealed buildings. The high ceilings allow for dramatic effects such as atriums.

The first tenant was home and garden retailer Smith & Hawken, whose headquarters were in three locations before consolidating at Hamilton Landing in 1999.

"I've seen lots of former bases in my travels, and I'll say this is the finest mixed-use project in North America," said Ken McDonald, Smith & Hawken vice president of real estate and construction.

"We draw our employees from the low, mid-rate and high-end housing on the base, and the harmony between the residential and commercial communities is remarkable."

He praised the parks, the library branch, the YMCA, the cafes, dry cleaners and artist center that the developers have supported.

"Hamilton Landing is a little bit of utopia," said Mr. McDonald.

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