Doug Kennedy hosted dozens of downtown merchants and city officials for a tour of his nearly completed Sonora Armory project, but the question of when it will open after more than two years in development was at the forefront of many people’s minds.

“It looks great, and you have great ideas, we’re just wondering — when will it be open?” asked Kristina Eaton, owner of Sonora Insurance Agency.

“It will open, whether I’m involved or not,” Kennedy replied. “I didn’t build this for it not to open.”

Kennedy announced in September that the 14,400-square-foot facility, which includes a bar, restaurant, live-entertainment venue, gift shop and outdoor beer garden, will remain closed until he can find a buyer in large part because his business ventures in the video-game industry have taken him to Florida, where he’s primarily lived for the past two years.

In an interview during Tuesday’s open house, Kennedy said that he has five “real, legitimate” potential buyers coming to check out the facility over the next couple of weeks.

“I think there will be a lot of movement in the next week or two,” he said, adding that the ideal opening date would be in time for the weekend of the next Mother Lode Roundup Parade and Rodeo, one of the biggest annual events in Tuolumne County.
“The fact of the matter is it’s going to open,” he reiterated. “I’ll either be fully involved with helping someone else open it, or sell it and give them my ideas.”

Kennedy said the potential buyers are all from outside of the area and include both companies and individuals, though he declined to reveal any names.

The property is listed for sale on LoopNet.com, a commercial real estate website, though the price is not disclosed. Kennedy is offering seller financing for a well-qualified buyer with a $2 million down payment, according to the listing.

A sale would also include Kennedy’s 5,500-square-foot Trado Restaurant Offices at 55 West Stockton St.

Kennedy credited project manager Sarah Segars with helping him realize his vision while he worked from afar. He also said that Larry Cope, executive director of the Tuolumne County Economic Development, was the “biggest help” he’s received over the past three years since opening the Bourbon Barrel in 2015.

“I would not have opened Bourbon Barrel and expanded it into this (if not for Cope’s support),” Kennedy said.

Tuesday was Kennedy’s seventh day in Tuolumne County since May, though he said he plans to return periodically in the coming months. He’s flying to Japan Saturday for work related to his primary job as co-founder and chief executive officer of Studio Wildcard, makers of the popular video game “Ark: Survival Evolved.”

One of the main reasons the project has taken so long to complete was due to the amount of time and attention paid to the details, Kennedy told a group of about 20 people huddled in the facility’s theater.

All of the work was custom built over the two years by Boyer Construction of Sonora.

CJ Valenti, co-owner of Winters Tavern Motherlode Grill just up the street from the Armory, said the facility reminded him of the Stone Brewing Co. World Bistro and Gardens in Escondido.

“This is reminiscent of new facilities I’ve seen that are top of the mark,” he said. “High-end build, very industrial.”

Valenti said he believes the facility when open and fully operating could be a draw for the downtown area that would help other local businesses, including similar ones like his own.

However, there remains some concerns about parking.

The facility is estimated to have a maximum capacity of more than 500 people, including 176 in the outdoor beer garden courtyard, 60 on the top of the mezzanine, 50 to 75 in the bar and restaurant and up to 264 standing or 160-plus seated in the theater.

Kennedy estimated that it could accommodate as many as 800 when using space in the parking lot for special events as he previously planned.

“I know something everyone is a little concerned about is parking and traffic,” Valenti said. “If we had another 800 people in Sonora on top of what we already have, where are they going to park?”

Whoever opens the bar will have to meet the city’s requirement for providing parking, which is based on total occupancy, or pay in-lieu fees that amount to $1,500 per space that’s needed. Kennedy assured that there would be no problem meeting the requirements.

“We will meet that requirement with the city,” Kennedy said. “The city won’t let us open if we don’t, and our intention is to get a partner and have that all disclosed when we transfer ownership.”

Many of the people interviewed while they toured the facility remarked at the level craftsmanship and that they believed it would be a boon to the overall economy in downtown Sonora.

Katie Dunn, president of the Sonora Chamber of Commerce, said she could see the business serving as an anchor for the rest of the historic downtown district.

“It’s breathtaking what he’s done here, and I expected nothing less,” Dunn said. “We’re all a little curious about what going to happen next, but we’re excited it will be here.”

Other factors that Kennedy previously cited as contributing to his decision to sell the business included pushback from some in the community and a recent decision by the Sonora City Council to approve a project that would put a bus stop next to his Trado Restaurant Corp. offices.

Councilman Matt Hawkins and Councilwoman Colette Such both voted against the bus stop location and raised concerns about the other proposed location on South Washington Street.

Hawkins, who toured Kennedy’s facility on Tuesday, said he didn’t understand some of the pushback to Kennedy’s plans and felt that the city needs to do more to support the success of business, such as providing a law enforcement presence for special events.

“One of the city’s jobs is to help its businesses survive any way it legally and ethically can,” he said. “The city should always have a role to make sure the businesses succeed.”

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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