NOVATO, Calif. - Barker Pacific Group and Prudential Real Estate Investors obviously know a good deal when they see one, even if it takes more than two decades to come to fruition. Parsippany, N.J.-based Prudential has signed on as Barker's equity partner in the development of Hamilton Landing in Marin County, Calif., about 20 miles north of San Francisco. When completed, Prudential will be majority owner in the $100 million project that will include 552,000 sq. ft. of office space in seven renovated aircraft hangars and two new buildings in a market with office vacancy rates around 2%.

Barker's involvement in the redevelopment of the former Hamilton Air Force Base dates back only to 1999, but the former air base has been decommissioned since 1974 and was closed by 1976. For the next 17 years, local government and a cadre of developers floated various proposals but nothing seemed to stick. Then, in 1993, Pacific Union and The Martin Group, both of San Francisco, formed The New Hamilton Partnership and received approval for 1,650 new homes, apartments and townhouses, and 685,000 sq. ft. of commercial space on 414 acres. Last year, Barker Pacific Group acquired the seven hangars and land for two additional buildings from The New Hamilton Partnership for about $10 million.

"What we saw in these buildings were interesting-shaped boxes that had the opportunity to provide a creative kind of office space that is popular in the current market," says Michael Barker, managing director at Barker Pacific. "The improvements we have planned are what you'd find in a typical Class-A building, but yet we end up with space that has some interesting architectural features."

Barker Pacific completed the first redeveloped building - a 56,715 sq. ft. hangar - earlier this year and leased it to Smith & Hawken as the upscale garden product retailer's headquarters and design studio. With the Smith and Hawken building and all redeveloped structures, the developer stripped down the building to its shell and built a second mezzanine level with a 28-ft. ceiling atrium at the front of the building. The ceilings and steel truss were painted white to enhance the building's drop-down lighting and natural light. Lending energy efficiency and flexibility to the project, Barker Pacific installed a raised-access floor system that distributes power, telecom and heating/air conditioning from beneath the floor. While more energy efficient, the in-floor HVAC system also helps flush stagnant air from the building as the warmer air rises through vents in the ceiling of the redeveloped hangar. Barker plans to complete the redevelopment and new construction by 2002.

Other parts of the base's overall redevelopment plan include more than 2,000 new homes, a town center retail area and an assisted-living facility.

With rates around $34 per sq. ft., Hamilton Landing is substantially cheaper than many Bay-area and Silicon Valley locales, and is aimed primarily at financial services, biotech and software firms, Barker says. Another draw for the development: redevelopment. Since seven of the buildings already exist and the new structures are already part of a redevelopment plan, Barker Pacific and Prudential avoid Northern California's maddening, mind-boggling legal/environmental hoops.

"What we're proud about is the fact that we're taking what was once a military base and reusing it in a way that's not only unique but really responds to the environmental sensitivity of a place like Marin (County)," Barker says. "We're not going out and tearing up the landscape to build a bunch of suburban office buildings."