[Update 7.29.20] In the coming weeks, City Council will also likely consider a proposal to replace the building’s roof and fund a fire sprinkler system connection.
[Update 7.29.20]: The Planning Commission unanimously approved the proposed paint color changes and the removal of the balloon awnings demo the Depot building.

Since being deemed essential construction in May, the longstanding efforts to renovate the City-owned old train depot that is home to the Depot Bookstore & Cafe, the Mill Valley Chamber and a pair of new public bathrooms has been back on track.

Now owner Paul Lazzareschi, managing partner Mark Martini and their investors are set to go back to the City of Mill Valley on a few items that they hope will bring the project to the finish line in the coming weeks. 

First up, on Tuesday, July 28, they are seeking Planning Commission approval of an Amendment to the Design Review Permit for the Depot Building to allow for revised paint colors and permanent removal of the balloon awning window coverings. The proposal, which is shown on the rendering above, seeks to use the two paint colors as shown above instead of the same “salmon” exterior color, and to not replace the balloon awnings in order to allow the public full view of the historic arched windows and doors.

​The Commission reviews the proposal at its July 28th meeting at 7pm.  July 28, 2020 at 7:00 PM. WATCH IT HEREFor questions or to provide comments on this item, contact Lisa Newman, Senior Planner at (415) 388-4033 or via email here. STAFF REPORT HERE.

City Manager Alan Piombo also told the City Council last week that the they should expect to see a request to replace the existing roof because of “concerns it may not last through another rainy season,” as well as the need to address the costs associated with connecting the building’s fire sprinkler system.

“I will come back to council when I have some firm numbers,” Piombo told the Council.

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. “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.”

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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