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.
Affordable housing advocates have pressed the city and rail agency to maximize the number of homes in the area around the rail station. While they're satisfied by the number of housing units in the proposal, they are waiting to see if the prices will be low enough to be truly affordable.
There also have been concerns about the effect of potentially high ground-water levels on the underground parking plan, as well as how the development affects traffic in the neighborhood.
Finally, questions remain about financing the development, which would be one of the largest in Santa Rosa in recent memory.
But members of the committee that recommended the plan were enthusiastic about its chances for approval.
"I feel that they have demonstrated an ability to coalesce some very diverse interest groups and get them all excited about having a magical place," said Cloverdale Mayor Bob Jehn, a SMART board member.
Creative Housing Associates was selected over CMI/Domus of Los Angeles and the John Stewart Co. of San Francisco.
The proposal goes before the SMART real estate committee on June 7. The full SMART board is scheduled to vote June 21, but committee members said Wednesday's recommendation will likely stand.
In preparing their proposals, the potential developers were asked to remember the rail agency's priority: Generating ridership for the proposed train service, which is likely to be the subject of sales tax votes in Sonoma and Marin counties in November.
In addition, there was the city's desire for the food and wine center, the neighborhood concerns about traffic and noise and the demand for high-density, low-cost housing near the rail station.