The developer of a proposed Railroad Square food and wine center has secured $15 million in grants and federal stimulus funds to keep the project on track.

With the help of Santa Rosa officials, the developers of the ambitious housing and commercial project were awarded an $11.4 million state grant to be used primarily for street, water and sewer work.

The city agreed to kick in another $3.7 million of its share of anticipated federal stimulus money to help with infrastructure and environmental clean-up.

Developers hope to break ground on the first phase of the project ? the retail portion, some housing and a parking garage ? in about a year.

?It?s very catalytic to have these funds,? developer John Stewart said Tuesday. The money helps close a funding gap in the $180 million project, which is planned in three phases, he said.

?We consider this to be an economic catalyst for all of the downtown,? Santa Rosa Mayor Susan Gorin said.

The grant money awarded by the state ?is critical for this project. It is very difficult to get development going at the current time. Without this funding, this project would probably not be moving forward,? she said.

Stewart, part of the development partnership known as New Railroad Square LLC, is proposing to build a 40,000-square-foot public market food and wine center and a 10,000-square-foot retail center. He described it as similar to Ox Bow Public Market in Napa.

That would be the first phase of the project, along with a parking garage and 68 units of affordable housing.

In all, Stewart hopes to build 279 housing units, both affordable and market rate, by using an adjacent two acres and incorporating the walls of a century-old cannery.

The partners still need to secure all their financing and some city entitlements, but ?if everything falls into place, we can start next summer on the first phase,? Stewart said.

The developers last year got a green light on the project from the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit district, which owns the 5.5-acre site and wants to increase ridership for the coming SMART train.

The intent is to create transit-oriented housing and convenient shopping.

The New Railroad Square developers will get title to the land when they secure financing, complete the environmental clean-up, have a construction bond and receive approval from Santa Rosa to proceed with the infrastructure, along with building permits.

City Manager Jeff Kolin said Santa Rosa in conjunction with the developer had to compete in Sacramento Monday with a number of larger cities seeking a limited pool of transit-oriented state grants for their projects.

?To be awarded the $11.4 million is really exciting for us,? he said, explaining that the food and wine center is part of the city?s vision for downtown and Railroad Square.

?We?ve been planning and investing in this area for 20 plus years. Some examples of this are the convention center and hotel, restoration of the depot and park, Prince Memorial and Gateway Park,? he said.