We could all use some good new these days, and some just arrived with the revived renovation of one of the City’s great landmarks, the old train depot that is home to the Depot Bookstore & Cafe, the Mill Valley Chamber and a pair of new public bathrooms that conceptually date back to the 1980s. 
 
“We are excited to be back to work at the Depot Cafe & Bookstore construction project,” says Mark Martini, a longtime local resident and one of the investors in the Depot. “We are working to revive the Depot for Mill Valley and are doing so with the safety of our construction team in top of mind.”

The project had been halted along with all construction during Marin County’s first shelter in place order in mid-March. AS weeks of inability to continue the project ground on, City and County officials were able to give the project a go-ahead as essential construction because of its inclusion of the public bathrooms, Acting City Manager Alan Piombo said.

“Our contractor with Hasz Construction prepared the site and put into place the requisite COVID-19 safeguards, including temperature checks, proper PPE, and social distancing protocols,” Martini said. “There will be a limited number of subcontractors onsite to allow for proper distancing space for the workers.”
 
“We are relieved to get the project moving again and are eager to welcome the community to the Depot Café and Bookstore in the coming months,” he added. “COVID-19 has raised a great deal of stress and health concern in the community (and globally) with physical distancing and isolation. At the Depot, we look forward to doing our part to support social reconnections when deemed permissible.”

The Depot first closed for the renovation in March 2019, and the fencing that heralded the beginning of construction went up in late December. Paul Lazzareschi, who owns the bookstore and cafe business that occupies the building, and his team of investors are focused on a project that largely has two components: an overhaul of the Depot space, bringing the historic building, particularly its bathroom and kitchen, up to code, as well as the construction of a long-sought, much-needed public restroom adjacent to the Depot.

The delay was largely triggered by expansive negotiations between the City and Lazzareschi over the financial details of the project, i.e., who was going to pay for each of its specific components, as well as turnover among investors. Lazzareschi, who also owns Vasco restaurant across the street from the Depot, first put forward plans soon after he and then-partner Gary Rulli bought the business in 2016 from the family of the late Mary Turnbull, who founded the famed bookstore and cafe with her husband William Turnbull in 1987 and died in September 2015.

The Depot pays the City a base rent plus a percentage of total sales. The depot building was built by the Northwestern Pacific Railroad in 1928. It served as the terminal for electric and oil trains that between Mill Valley to the Sausalito ferry docks. The railroad shut down in the 1940s and morphed into a bus depot, used first by Greyhound and later by Golden Gate Transit. In the 1970s, the building was re-invented as Ganey’s Bookstore and Cafe, which it remained until the Turnbull family took over the lease in 1987.

In April 2018, the Mill Valley City Council unanimously rejected an effort to stop plans to renovate the space and allow the construction of a long-delayed downtown public bathroom to proceed. City officials and Lazzareschi reached an agreement to incorporate the public bathroom construction into the Depot project to save costs and time. The public bathroom project was regularly discussed in 2014 and was fully budgeted in 2015 and conceptually dates back to 1984, when then-Mayor Richard “Dick” Jessup, who designed the Depot Plaza, first sketched out a downtown bathroom location.

To accommodate the construction, the Mill Valley Chamber, whose Visitor Center and office has also been in the City-owned building for decades, relocated to a temporary mobile office a few hundred feet away, in a pair of parking spaces on Miller Avenue across from Piazza D’Angelo.

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