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It's All About the Real Estate, Baby

Columnist: Bill Meagher
October, 2016 Issue

Bill Meagher
All articles by columnist

Real estate here is about as far from normal as one should venture without adult supervision, smelling salts and a bank you think you can knock over. 

Normally, when something “goes to the dogs,” it’s a bad thing. But things are seldom normal in Marin County, a fact we in this little corner of the magazine are happy to celebrate on a monthly basis. And real estate here is about as far from normal as one should venture without adult supervision, smelling salts and a bank you think you can knock over.

To begin, let’s take a peek at the $20 million addition to the San Rafael campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind, a fine organization dedicated to teaching man’s best friend to aid the visually impaired. In July, the nonprofit announced plans to construct a 28,000-square-foot facility to train puppies. It wants to bump up the number of dogs that eventually become guide dogs and feels a new center focused on the specifics of puppy development will mean more dogs can graduate to guide dog status.

The new center will include a nursery where mothers and their young can hang as well as a section dedicated to enhanced socialization of the new pups. It turns out that like humans, the time right after birth is critical for their development. Guide Dogs wants to zero in on the first 10 weeks of life to nurture those puppies and increase the number that can be assigned as guide dogs from 42 percent to 55 percent.

The organization has raised $12 million towards the center and hopes to have the construction completed in summer 2018.

Given Marin’s proud history of feeling like any development is akin to voting for Donnie “Little Hands” Trump, it will be interesting to see how the project fares once it hits the planning maze. I’d think its tough begrudging puppies a better place to learn how to help the blind—but maybe that’s just me.

Trotting south on Highway 101, we have one of the county’s largest employers, Marin General Hospital, working on its $535 million renovation. The work was mandated by state earthquake safety regulations that go into effect in 2030. The first phase of the project includes a new emergency room, half a dozen operating rooms as well as space for 114 private beds.

Health care has become intensely competitive and Marin General hopes the updated facility will help it fight off the challenges of rival Sutter Health, which owns Novato Sutter Community Hospital. It also formerly operated MGH in an arrangement so byzantine it made the Middle East look simple.

Marin General’s new 260,000-square-foot addition will also be state of the art in terms of the environment, meeting either gold or silver LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, as well as using recycled materials and sustainable wood for some construction.

The new addition will also be tranquil and provide a healing space, and not just in a “that incision is healing nicely” way, but also in a New Age-drum circle-healing kind of way with rooftop gardens and a Rolfing center.

Just kidding about the Rolfing center…probably.

Rolling a little further south to Corte Madera, we have the Best Western Corte Madera Inn, a hotel company that would like to renovate into a 103-room extended stay Residence Inn and add a second hotel, a 71-room Spring Hill Suites. Residents haven’t been real receptive to the project.

So Reneson Hotels, which owns the Corte Madera Inn along with the Novato Oaks, hedged its bets, placing the former on the market for more than $20 million, just in case the town of Corte Madera nixes the project.

Next, Scandinavian Designs announced Century Cinema, a 637-seat single-screen movie palace, purchased last year for $5.1 million, can’t be used as a movie theater due to a deed restriction.

The Petaluma-based furniture retailer had no plans (of course) to show movies. Rather, it wants to move its flagship store from downtown San Rafael to the theater property. But some residents held out hope that somehow the town might turn the retail project down and the popcorn machine would continue turning out over-priced buckets for patrons watching 3-D movies.

Your Marin moment

Still in Corte Madera, MacFarlane Partners, the San Francisco-based developers of the much maligned Tam Ridge Marin complex on the former site of WinCup, now says its 180-unit apartment complex will begin leasing early next year.

The project has been besieged by delays as it was originally scheduled to open the summer of 2014. It was approved in 2012 in a controversial decision, and residents have complained about the scale of the complex as well as the way it looks, anticipated increased traffic congestion and the very real possibility that the project is responsible for all global warming and the Warriors failure to capture the NBA championship earlier this year. 




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