The atmospheric rivers parted, the bomb cyclone passed, the skies cleared and about a hundred people assembled at noon on Tuesday at the former Purity Building—which began life in 1921 as an agricultural warehouse for wine grapes—to mark the beginning of its transformation into a new home for the Healdsburg Farmers’ Market.
Wielding the golden shovels to toss the first symbolic loads marking the groundbreaking of the construction project were all members of the City Council, including the current Mayor David Hagele, as well as Farmers’ Market Director Janet Ciel and two members of the Foley family.
With all those people assembled, naturally there were speeches. Mayor Hagele, who assumed the office for the second time at the beginning of the year, spoke first, outlining the history not only of the project but of the landmark North Street building itself, known variously as the Cerri Building after its 1922 builders, or the Purity Products building after its most recent tenant, who left in 2004.
The fate of the building, he recounted, was up in the air for years, although the city of Healdsburg lacked the resources to tackle a full-scale renovation and contemplated turning it into an affordable housing project. Then things changed.
“In January of 2020, the city received a pledge from the Foley Foundation to fund the project at an amount of up to $7 million,” he said. “That meeting was very contentious. At the time, affordable housing was a very big deal, and we really approached this as, ‘It’s not one or the other, how can we do both?’ We really strive for balance in this community.”
Hagele described how the council was eventually able to leverage the funds from the donation to proceed with the community gathering space and move forward with several affordable housing projects currently still in the works. “So, it’s all happening. To me that’s balance, and to me that’s Healdsburg,” he said.
It took a couple of years to finalize the design for the site and its environmental review, and in September of 2023 the council awarded the contract to Wright Construction to complete the project.
Features and Benefits
Itemizing the features of the structure, Hagele mentioned that it will be all-electric, powered by Healdsburg’s own public utility, include rainwater capture and permeable parking area to handle storm drainage, serve as a community event space with a capacity of 800 at theater-style seating, include a catering kitchen and provide public restrooms for the downtown area (to a substantial ovation).
“Construction is expected to take 12 to 18 months to complete. And we can’t wait to see you all here at the ribbon-cutting next year,” he concluded.
Courtney Foley, who with her sister Carol persuaded their father Bill Foley to make the substantial community donation, also said a few words, as did Healdsburg Museum Director Holly Hoods. She made it a point to thank architect Alan Cohen, who had the vision to turn the rundown warehouse into a community center and who realized that the building had a possible other purpose. “He saw that it could be transformed through adaptive reuse into a community center,” Hoods said.
City Manager Jeff Kay also spoke, and along with other words of thanks said, “Nobody has done more to make this project a reality than our community services director, Mark Themig. Never will you see one person work so hard for one community project. It was probably a saga of just about a decade—and just as it doesn’t happen without the Foley family, it doesn’t happen without all of that work [of Themig’s], it just doesn’t happen.”
Once the pile of dirt had been tossed about by the council members and the assembled visitors reviewed the poster board displays inside the building’s lobby, Themig himself modestly demurred from all the praise. “I was one of many behind the scenes who helped make this a reality. It really became a passion for the community,” he said.
Themig had just returned from a medical leave of several months, and his return to the front lines of community service was a welcome development—almost as much so as the Foley Family Community Pavilion itself, the future home of the Healdsburg Farmers’ Market.
Considering a timeline for the project’s completion, Themig suggested an optimistic 15 months. “If we have great weather this spring we’re going to make great progress,” he said. “We’re hoping we have it done at the start of summer, 2025.”