After a decade of failed attempts to build something on the site of the former White House department store downtown, the Santa Rosa City Council is shifting its development strategy for the property.
Instead of teaming up with a private developer to construct a tower combining retail, a public parking garage and residential units, the council thinks separating the projects might give each a greater chance of success.
The idea now is for the city to build a 700-space public parking garage on the 1.3-acre White House site, now a vacant lot, between Second and Third streets. The project would cost about $17.5 million and include ground floor retail spaces, said Cheryl Woodward, the city deputy director of economic development and housing.
That would allow the city to demolish the nearby 204-space parking garage at Third and D Streets, known as Garage 5. The 1960s-era structure needs $1.8 million in upgrades in the next few years, an expense the city would like to avoid.
Removing it would leave a vacant site in the heart of downtown that would be "shovel ready" for a private developer to build whatever the market will bear, such as a small hotel.
The strategy, outlined by the majority of the council Tuesday, reflects a belief that previous efforts to develop the White House site have failed in part because the city put too many burdens on its private development partners.
"The city has been meddling too heavily in the project," said Vice Mayor Jake Ours. "We just have to get out of the way and let the market tell us what works."
Councilman Scott Bartley agreed that the city should be more open minded about what types of projects it would accept for the Garage 5 site.
"Let private industry tell us what is marketable or financeable at this point, rather than trying to micro-manage it," he suggested.
The city has failed three times in the past decade to get something built on the site of the department store that closed in 1985, was razed in 1991 and now is a city parking lot.