When funding for the SMART train was approved by voters in 2008, the hope was that the rail line would not only provide a transportation alternative but would become a magnet for future city-centered, transit-oriented development.
That latter vision may already be paying dividends.
Irvine-based SunCal Cos. -#8212; a national developer of large mixed-use communities -#8212; on Dec. 24 purchased the sprawling former State Farm campus in Rohnert Park. Although many details of the deal are unknown, the company made clear that one of the attractions of the site was its proximity to the SMART line and the future Rohnert Park train station.
As Joe Guerra, manager of SunCal's Northern California acquisitions, told Staff Writer Jeremy Hay, "We want to take advantage of the train station and help enable a town center-downtown area that our development will be part of."
Make no mistake. This is a stroke of good fortune for Rohnert Park and for Sonoma County as a whole.
When State Farm Insurance -#8212; then one of the largest employers in the county -#8212; announced in 2010 that it was closing its 450-employee Rohnert Park regional office and shipping most of the jobs to Bakersfield, it was a significant blow to the local economy.
Now, SunCal plans to transform this vacant site at State Farm Drive and Rohnert Park Expressway into a complex of single-?family homes and retail space. The plan could invigorate the city's hopes of creating what Rohnert Park has always lacked -#8212; a downtown center.
All of this is still far down the road. SunCal officials have yet to meet with city officials to discuss the environmental analysis that is needed. Construction is at least two years away -#8212; about the time the SMART train is due to begin operating.
Given what exists there now -#8212; 30 vacant acres near railroad tracks that haven't carried passengers for 55 years -#8212; both will be worth the wait.