Panel backs proposal calling for shops, housing, food and wine center

San Francisco's landmark Ferry Building, which placed shops, restaurants and a farmer's market at a major transit hub, inspired a proposed makeover of the west edge of Santa Rosa's Railroad Square.

The Santa Rosa plan adds a food and wine center long coveted by city officials and housing on upper floors to the features drawn from the recently refurbished Ferry Building.

A proposed commuter rail line would run alongside, with a station across the tracks.

The proposal was unanimously recommended Wednesday by a committee representing the city and the North Bay rail agency that owns the 5?-acre site between Third and Sixth streets.

Hugh Futrell, a former Santa Rosa school board member who has other building projects in and around downtown, is a partner in the Creative Housing Associates plan that was picked over two other developers.

Their proposal includes a 46,650-square-foot food and wine center, a white-tablecloth restaurant, a farmer's market, 250 housing units, a child-care center, a health club and an underground parking garage.

A firm cost has yet to be established for the proposal, construction is at least a year off and several possible obstacles remain in its path.

First, the committee's recommendation must be ratified by the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency, which owns the land. The proposal also must be routed through Santa Rosa's planning process.

There could be debate over the $7 million in subsidies Creative Housing wants from the city, although the request has been cut from $16 million - a figure that raised eyebrows at City Hall earlier this month.

"When do we say we can't afford this?" Santa Rosa Mayor Jane Bender asked at a May 9 council meeting.

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