I t’s shaping up to be a transformative year for the City of Sonora’s historic downtown district.
A slew of new and unique businesses are planned to open over the next 12 months, including a craft-beer tap room, a long-desired bakery and Sonora businessman Doug Kennedy’s beer and wine garden that involves a multimillion dollar expansion of Stage 3 Theatre.
“There’s just a lot of energy in downtown Sonora right now,” said Mayor Connie Williams.
Work is progressing on Kennedy’s renovation of Stage 3’s existing building at 208 S. Green St., including an addition that will house his Green Dog Beer Co. Boyer Construction, of Sonora, is the general contractor for the more than $4 million project.
Traffic in the downtown area was affected Thursday morning as some side streets were closed briefly for work to tear down concrete walls of the portion of the building on Church Street.
“They’re moving along,” said Kennedy, during an interview in the new offices of his Trado Restaurant Corp. at 55 Stockton Road.
“There’s still a lot of things that need to happen between now and when we open, but they (Boyer Construction) have a great plan and we’re happy they’re on board.”
Boyer crews have gutted the inside of the theater due to rainy weather over the past several weeks that prevented them from doing much exterior work.
Sarah Segars, project manager, said Boyer was using the break in the rain to get the walls torn down, which will allow them to shift between outdoor and indoor work as the weather permits.
“They’ve been working over the past few days on sandblasting the ceiling,” Segars said of the interior work. “Next, they’ll start framing the retail space.”
The Green Dog Beer Co. plans to serve beer, wine and food in a semi-outdoor setting. Kennedy is also developing unique beers that will be brewed offsite and sold inside the retail space.
An expanded kitchen will allow them to offer more food items than are available at Kennedy’s Bourbon Barrel located next to the theater.
Kennedy estimated the project will be completed by late summer.
In the meantime, Stage 3 has relocated their offices to the RE/MAX Gold building at 207 S. Washington St. in Sonora. The temporary office hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday, and by appointment on Mondays and Fridays.
Kennedy is working to find a new permanent office for Stage 3 in the downtown area, because structural issues discovered in the 1940s-era building that’s under renovation will reduce the amount of available square footage.
Williams, who also leads Stage 3’s Board of Directors, said Kennedy has been in close communication with them throughout the process.
“Any time something comes up, he immediately calls us, we discuss it and see what we can come up with,” Williams said. “We’re trying to be flexible partners.”
That will likely also mean finding a temporary place to perform when the theater’s 2017 play season begins May 26. Williams said the board is exploring their options, including discussions with Sonora High, Summerville High and Mountain Youth and Community Theatre in Sonora.
Ultimately, Williams believes the renovation will be worth the trouble.
The project is expected to expand the theater’s seating from 85 to 125, while retaining it’s intimate, black-box setting. Set designers have already moved their workshop inside the building along Church Street, which Williams said has worked out well.
Williams said the new seating will be able to be moved around to change the shape of the stage and set, which will give the board more flexibility in selecting plays for the 2018 season. There will also be new lighting and sound systems.
“This will be the toughest year because everything will be brand new,” Williams said. “There will be ups and downs, but we’ll just have to adjust — and that’s what we’re doing now, together.”
The opening of the Cheesy Winer bar and restaurant at 181 S. Washington St. late last year added to the downtown area’s established assortment of places to dine in or have a drink, such as Emberz, Hot Shotz Sports Bar and Grill, Mi Pueblo Bar and Restaurant, Sonora Thai Cuisine, Talulah’s Restaurant, and Diamondback Grill, to name a few.
Yoshoku Ramen Noodle Bar opened earlier this month under owners John and Shauna Chin, of Sonora, who say they’ve received mostly positive reviews from customers and on social media.
Further adding to the inventory this year will be the Sonora Tap Room at 1 Linoberg St., the former location of Cole Video.
Nayland Chappell, who moved to Sonora from Santa Cruz in October 2015, plans to serve 20 types of beers from craft breweries throughout the region. She recently traveled north with co-owner, Carey Merrill, to taste beers and search for decor, which will include old car parts and gold-mining equipment they found in Oregon.
“Everything’s moving right along,” Chappell said.
Chappell said most of the major construction on the interior of the building will likely be completed in the next 10 days. They hope to open in the first week of March.
Kennedy contacted the couple through their leasing agent to extend a hand and potentially collaborate on special events. He’s discussed doing pub crawls, concerts and festival-like events in coordination with the various downtown bars and restaurants.
Meanwhile, a bakery is something that Sonora residents have repeatedly brought up at public meetings over the years as a type of business they would like to see in the downtown area.
Dennis Overholtzer, owner of Sonora Rentals, said he’s planning to open one with his family this year in the building at 81 S. Washington St. that houses the Tar Flat Sonora boutique. He said the bakery will be operated by his wife, Laurie, and daughter, Andrea, who is an avid baker.
“I think they’ll do well,” he said. “It’s kind of exciting.”
The previous owner of the building, Marianne Wright, sold it to the Overholtzers last year. She’s planning to move her shop across the street and few paces south in the space at 104 S. Washington St. that housed Tuolumne County Realty Co.
Wright said the decision to move was partially based on the city’s long-term plan to shut down, or partially close, Linoberg Street between Washington and Stewart streets to vehicle traffic, which is what she uses to load and unload furniture from her shop.
The new location will make loading and unloading easier, she said.
“I feel like the economy is getting better,” Wright said of the increased business activity in downtown Sonora. “Both 2015 and 2016 were awesome for me, and I just think people have been feeling more confident.”