Construction is to begin soon on the long-delayed Museum on the Square project, which even in its scaled-back form is expected to stimulate revitalization of downtown Santa Rosa.
City building officials issued a permit last week for the project, which promises to transform the vacant former AT&T building into a glass-clad office building and wine museum.
Developer Hugh Futrell signed closing documents on his $11 million construction loan Friday afternoon and expects work on the interior of the building to begin this month, he said.
"My partners and I are extremely excited about the project, more so than ever," Futrell said. "We think it will be transformative, and we know our tenants agree."
Work on the shell of the hulking structure should be finished by the end of the year, with tenants in place early in 2015, he said.
The milestone comes more than 20 years after most of the 100-foot-tall monolith was vacated by AT&T and a decade after the city began considering buying the windowless eyesore to re-energize the southwest corner of Old Courthouse Square.
The city purchased the building in 2007 with $3 million in redevelopment funds. Initial plans called for demolishing it to create a clean slate for development. But the thick concrete walls — it was built to protect the telecom gear it housed from a nuclear blast — made demolition prohibitively expensive.
Futrell and his partners in 2010 proposed reusing the five-story structure, adding five stories of residential units on top, and housing the Sonoma County Museum and a restaurant on the first floor.
But the post-recession lending environment, combined with uncertainty over the demise of the city's redevelopment agency, dealt the project setback after setback.
A promising early tenant, software firm M?ier, pulled out. The museum, citing the uncertainty of the project, followed suit. Futrell abandoned the residential units and redesigned the project to focus on the office space.