Rohnert Park to buy former State Farm site for $12.5 million for future downtown

Rohnert Park is set to shell out $12.5 million to buy the property long envisioned as the site of a future downtown, securing the city the lead role in one of the city’s most ambitious development projects. its 60 years of history.

The city is proposing to purchase the 30-acre State Farm property from Laulima Development, which purchased the property in 2017 with the intention of building a $400 million mixed-use residential and commercial development to anchor what the city of planned suburb never had: a city centre.

The project never saw the light of day, but the purchase could put the long-awaited downtown development in the hands of the city.

“The best chance for us to create a downtown is for the city to step in and get it moving,” City Manager Darrin Jenkins said. “I’m really excited about this.”

City Council will consider a resolution approving the purchase at a special meeting at 11:30 a.m. Thursday. The city uses surplus dollars and cash from the general fund to pay for the land.

The city already owns 2 acres of land on the southwest corner of the site where the city’s public works department is located.

For decades, Rohnert Park sought to create a walkable downtown with a mix of housing and commercial development. The State Farm Drive site has been the main contender in town talks since the insurance company closed its offices nearly 15 years ago.

The city is taking a big gamble on itself buying the property, but Jenkins noted that the city is buying it for less than the $13.5 million Laulima bought it in 2017 and less than the city was paying for. property is assessed.

An appraisal last August valued the property at $20 million if developed, according to city documents.

Buying the property will give the city more leverage over proposed downtown development and could help a project move forward more quickly, Jenkins said, even though the city has a history of successfully developing city-owned sites. city ​​into a hotel, apartments and other amenities. for the inhabitants.

Mayor Jackie Elward called the decision to buy the property a “bold move” but said that’s what it would take to complete a project of this scale.

Elward said it took years for private developers to move a project forward, and the city had little say in its final shape. Although the development will still take years to complete, at least the city can now have more authority over how it takes shape.

“We’re getting our downtown and this purchase gives hope to our constituents who elected us that what we said we hoped to do, we’re going to do,” she said.

Laulima, a San Francisco-based company, bought the site of the old insurance company five years ago and proposed to build a mixed-use development comprising 460 apartments, a luxury hotel and 270,000 square feet of offices, retail and restaurants.

The city council advanced the Station Avenue development plan in 2018, and the existing building was demolished in 2019. But the project never got off the ground, with developers blaming delays on rising labor costs and materials related to the 2017 North Bay fires and the economy. impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Laulima notified the city in late 2021 that it intended to sell the property.

Jenkins said the property was under contract, but the deal fell through earlier this month, prompting the city to consider buying the property.

“I said, ‘Well, you know, the city might be interested in buying him,'” Jenkins recalled after finding out he was available.

The city council discussed the future of the site in a closed meeting on April 12, but no public report was made after the meeting. Council members and city staff declined to speak at the time of the discussion, and calls to property-related officials were not returned.

City documents show Rohnert Park made an offer the next day to buy the property, which Laulima accepted.

Anne Kensok, a representative for Laulima, did not respond to a request for comment.

Plans for the property could include market-priced and affordable housing, a plaza and retail and office space.

City workers are considering a hotel, which they say is essential to developing the site and bringing and keeping people there.

The city will likely update current development plans approved for the site and build infrastructure such as streets and utilities and a central plaza. State grants could help offset development costs, according to city documents.

The city will sell the developable lots for the development of apartments and commercial spaces, according to city documents.

Jenkins is considering less office space than the 130,000 square feet previously offered, as demand for office space has declined during the pandemic. Construction will likely take place in phases, with housing being built first. The original plan called for the commercial space to be built first, followed by the apartments.

Former councilman Jake Mackenzie, who served on council from 1996 to 2020, said building a downtown remains a top priority for residents year after year in city polls.

He called the town’s move the best chance for the project to move forward after it became clear that Laulima could not afford to develop the property.

He called the purchase “a step forward for the city” after an “excruciatingly long process.”

You can reach editor Paulina Pineda at 707-521-5268 or [email protected] On Twitter @paulinapineda22.

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