The sprawling former State Farm Insurance office campus in the middle of Rohnert Park has been sold to a national developer of large mixed-use communities, kindling hopes for an invigorated city center.
The campus at State Farm Drive and Rohnert Park Expressway, empty since the company moved out in mid-2011, was purchased by Irvine-based Suncal Cos. on Dec. 24.
The sale price was not disclosed, but the deal involved $30 million in financing arranged through New York-based Catlin U.S. Investment Holdings, according to the Sonoma County Recorder's Office.
The development instantly puts a high-profile political and planning issue on the city's table.
"It's going to be a crucial step in the next year, what that's turned into," said Mayor Joe Callinan.
SunCal officials said single-family residences, both detached houses and townhomes, and retail spaces are envisioned, and that the development will link closely with the SMART commuter rail station that is to be built adjacent to the property.
"We want to take advantage of the train station and help enable a town center-downtown area that our development will be part of," said Joe Guerra, who manages SunCal's Northern California acquisitions.
He said a stand of redwoods at the northwest corner of the property, where residents now relax and picnic, will be preserved.
The site is key to ongoing plans to redevelop 282 acres in the core of a city that many see as lacking a definable center. Meetings are underway to chart the future of what is termed the Priority Development Area stretching from Highway 101 on the east to the railroad tracks bordering the State Farm site and to Alicia Drive on the south.
"In the 50-year history of Rohnert Park there was always this desire that there would a place of central focus, a downtown," Councilman Jake Mackenzie said.
"We're starting to move away from it being a possibility and toward it becoming a reality," he said.
"We still don't have that critical mass of people living in the downtown," he said. "Clearly what we want to have is the transit hub at the SMART station, a development on the State Farm property that will have people and commercial activities and I would say transform that area."
But there has been no articulated consensus about what that transformation will look like and what role the State Farm site will play in it.
"We have some council members who think that's going to be turned into a grand downtown. Rohnert Park has never had a grand downtown and that's not going to be it," said Callinan.
Like Mackenzie, though, -#8212; and also Guerra -#8212; Callinan suggested that the 4-year-old City Center Plaza and the public library, north of the Expressway, could be tied into whatever goes in at the State Farm property.
Guerra said SunCal intends to meet with city staff within two weeks to move forward with an environmental impact report and required amendments to the city's general plan.
"Before anybody sees earth moving, you're probably talking 24 months," he said.
SunCal has projects across the country, from Washington to Georgia to Dublin, where the company is developing 2,000 homes, a school, parks and shops on 189 acres.
(You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)