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Developer buying Cornerstone Sonoma complex of gardens, shops

  • Andy Cao, a Vietnamese-born landscape designer and artist, places thousands of crystals to the bottom of his chicken wire clouds during installation of his piece 'Bai Yun' at Cornerstone in Sonoma in 2011. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

Cornerstone Sonoma, a 9-acre complex with gardens, shops and restaurants south of Sonoma, is being sold to a Canadian real estate developer.

The buyer, Walter Thompson, president of GenerX Real Estate Services, has met with tenants in recent days to discuss his plans for the site.

The property on Arnold Drive features more than 20 walk-through garden installations that change and are updated by visiting landscape artists. The attraction, which drew more than 100,000 visitors last year, was named one of the top 10 Western gardens by Sunset magazine in 2009.

The site includes a small number of retail shops, two art galleries, a restaurant and three wineries.

“We look forward to working with all of Cornerstone's stakeholders to help the property grow into a true representation of Sonoma where the shops, cuisine, wine rooms, and entertainment are as unique and artful as the gardens and Sonoma itself,” Thompson said in a statement.

Financial terms were not disclosed. The deal is expected to be completed this month.

Thompson, whose company has offices in San Rafael and Toronto, declined to be interviewed about his plans for the property.

“We focus on building distinctive places, spaces and communities that help cultivate the aesthetic landscape of the neighborhoods within which people live, work and play — exactly the direction we aspire to in integrating Cornerstone into the fabric of Sonoma,” Thompson said in a statement.

Cornerstone's 12 employees will be retained and the tenants currently on the site will remain, said Teresa Raffo, a Napa resident who founded Cornerstone a decade ago with her husband, Chris Hougie.

“Over the years, we have had people come and want to buy Cornerstone,” she said. “Usually they don't get the value of the gardens and kind of don't get the site and kind of don't get the quirky nature of the site.”

“When Walter came, with his group, he really just got it,” she said. “(They were) the first group of people who really loved the garden.”

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