A concrete eyesore dominating downtown Santa Rosa's skyline would be transformed into an airy, modern mixed-use building housing an art museum, offices and apartments under a proposal unveiled Wednesday.
Developers Hugh Futrell and Bill Carle announced that a city selection committee had chosen their plan to redevelop the windowless five-story former AT&T building on Third Street into a 10-story glass-clad structure.
"Our goal is to create a community gem from what is now a large dead space in our downtown," Carle said. "We think this project is critical to the future of Santa Rosa."
The design, called Museum on the Square, was chosen by a four-member city selection committee from a field of five designs submitted in November. The city, which purchased the building in 2007 for $3 million, has been searching for a development partner for the project since mid-2008.
Mayor Susan Gorin, who sat on the committee, said the Museum on the Square development team was chosen for its visionary architectural design, solid financial position and strong track record of developing in downtown.
"Who knew that building could look so beautiful?" Gorin said of the conceptual renderings. Architect Don Tomasi "has done just an outstanding job in transforming what had been the ugliest building in the city into something that is going to knock people's socks off."
The selection committee was particularly impressed by commitments from two companies — Tomasi's firm and software design company Metier Ltd. — to occupy the building once it's complete. Some of Metier's employees have even expressed interest in living upstairs in the residential units.
Such an arrangement would epitomize the kind of downtown, live-work development the council has advocated, Gorin said.
"This is a dream come true for our council," she said. "We have something to start off our New Year with a bang."
Futrell stressed that it was his development team that was selected by the committee, not the building design, which could change significantly following input from the city.
"We've spent a great deal of time on this project concept, but until we do further outreach, it's conceptual and illustrative," Futrell said.
The current proposal calls for the Sonoma County Museum to occupy 10,000 square feet of the ground floor, with a high-end restaurant occupying the remaining 6,000 square feet.
The next four floors would be office space. Tomasi's TLCD Architecture, which designed the building, has agreed to occupy one floor, while Metier Ltd. has agreed to take at least one floor, perhaps more.
Both companies have signed memorandums of understanding that are binding, Futrell said. "These are serious relationships we've got," he said.
The existing building's high ceilings and strong structural walls make it ideal for creative companies like his that value large, open work spaces, Tomasi said.
"Architects love unique spaces, and we are looking for an open, collaborative environment where we can literally move desks around and reassemble teams consistently," he said.
It is a rare treat, he said, to be able to design the building that his firm will also be occupying.
"This is honestly the project of my lifetime," he said. "Museum on the Square's green design, including the reuse of a derelict industrial building, will make it an outstanding example of environmentally responsible downtown development."