The developer pitching an extensive redevelopment project in central Rohnert Park is seeking to both expand and accelerate its aspirations to create a vibrant downtown hub along the city’s commuter rail station.
Station Avenue, formerly called Rohnert Station, envisions a mixed-use development that would include homes, offices, retail shops and a hotel on a 32-acre campus just south of Rohnert Park Expressway. The sprawling, 320,000-square-foot facility was previously occupied by State Farm Insurance but has sat vacant since the company left in 2011.
Laulima Development, the San Francisco-based developer who bought it for $13.5 million last December, intends to submit its final development application to the city in the coming weeks.
It seeks to increase the combined amount of office and retail space to 250,000 square feet — a more than 40 percent expansion from an initial proposal — at least partly in response to high levels of interest from prospective tenants.
“For us, if we really want to create a meaningful downtown — that sense of place — we need that critical mass,” said David Bouquillon, managing partner of Laulima. “Early on, it was light. We’re always try to balance for that perfect ratio.”
The new downtown district, located next to the city’s existing SMART train commuter platform, also would include 415 units of market-rate housing spread across 150 for-sale homes and the remaining number in above-office rental lofts and apartments. While that total is unchanged from the earlier plans, the new layout also makes room for a new 156-room hotel to be built by a partner developer.
“We’ve been getting a lot of demands for hotels, and it piqued our interest,” Bouquillon said. “We found a way to make it work and it adds to the urban downtown, so we put that in the application.”
As part of the announcement last week, the company unveiled a new website with design renderings, a site plan, as well as a countdown to completion.
It is seeking to finish core elements of the project — the five-story buildings for retail, office space and apartments, plus the city square with green spaces and other pedestrian-focused public amenities — by the fall of 2020. The hotel and balance of housing are expected to be finished not long thereafter.
“There is no question the project is ambitious and they have an aggressive timeline,” said Zach Tusinger, a housing and economic development planner for the city. “We’ll move through it as quickly as possible, but certainly process it and make sure everything is complete.”
In order to hit its projected schedule, which targets a pre-holiday timetable for the benefit of future retailers, Laulima is shooting for city approval by the middle of September. That requires moving quickly through the environmental analyses and also receiving parks and planning commission approvals before it heads to the City Council.
By the end of the year, demolition of the existing structure would take place over the course of about a month and a half, Bouquillon said. Crews would then mobilize to construct roads and install infrastructure while the company obtains necessary building permits to go vertical.
The City Council decided in April to exempt development in the downtown area from a new fee on developers of rental housing to help fund future affordable units.
The Laulima project also will avoid similar fees on for-sale homes because the council’s asked city staff to request 15 affordable housing units at the site rather than, based on a formula, the 23 affordable units that would be required at a similar project elsewhere in the community.
“We’re going to try and achieve the units that they’ve asked for,” Bouquillon said. “That’s our goal. It’s a very fair request by the city. I don’t think it’s unreasonable at all.”
Council members also have floated ideas of reestablishing City Hall nearby if the large-scale project is finally able to get off the ground after years and years of community demands for a centralized, walkable downtown district. The city office building is currently on Avram Avenue, about a mile southwest from the State Farm campus, but the city could move to a former real estate office it purchased last year on the other side of Rohnert Park Expressway.