Construction is under way at the historic brick cannery buildings on the west side of Railroad Square in Santa Rosa, and next week developers will submit their formal application to the city for the long-awaited project.
Eighty live-work lofts, townhomes and upscale flats could begin going on the market in early 2007, said San Francisco developer John Stewart, who is spearheading the $40 million project.
His application comes after several years of meetings with city officials, historians, neighbors, merchants and community groups - and just days after the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District released its ideas for the 5? acres between the cannery and the railroad depot.
Together, the two projects could transform the historic district into what many envision as a teeming center of condos, shops, restaurants, a food and wine center, a culinary school, pedestrians, bikers and, maybe someday, trains.
"We're betting on Santa Rosa," Stewart said.
Nailing down the cannery's future is the next step in the revitalization of historic Railroad Square, which has included restoration of the railroad depot and the 88-year-old water tower and development of the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel and adjacent convention center.
Several developers also have new residential, office and retail buildings under way.
As the cannery project begins the city's formal review process next week, neighbors are applauding Stewart's willingness to listen to their ideas.
"We really feel we've found somebody who sees the value here, who respects us and our feelings," said Carol Dean, president of the West End Neighborhood Association.
The association was interested, among other things, in retaining some historical aspects of the former Del Monte cannery buildings, built in 1908, and in creating a corridor from Santa Rosa Creek to Fourth Street, Dean said.
The success of the cannery project could trigger conversion of about 15 historic brick warehouses north of the cannery into mixed-use housing and shops, said Jocelyn Lundgren, economic development and redevelopment manager for the city.
"John Stewart's project is testing the market. If his project is successful, we expect the others will follow," Lundgren said.
SMART may choose a developer for its 5? acres by the end of the year, and Stewart said he intends to apply. The fate of the train will be decided in November 2006, when Sonoma and Marin counties will vote jointly on a sales tax proposal to subsidize rail service from Cloverdale to Larkspur.
"We're gambling the SMART development goes well, we're gambling people want to live in flats and live-work places in town and we're gambling the sales tax goes well and they put the rail back where it should be," Stewart said.
The cannery project is being developed by Santa Rosa Canners LLC. Stewart and Richard Devine, also of San Francisco, are the company's managing partners.
Santa Rosa Canners bought nearly two acres, two cannery buildings and the water tower from Michael Franchetti and his family in 1999 for $1 million. Total development costs are expected to approach $40 million, Stewart said.
There are three cannery buildings in the area bounded by the creek and the railroad depot, between Third and Sixth streets.
Santa Rosa Canners is developing the middle and southern buildings, and it is landscaping a walkway between the two that connects the creek with Fourth Street.