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Former AT&T building in downtown Santa Rosa to feature wine museum

A 15,000-square-foot wine museum will be included in a renovation of the former AT&T building in downtown Santa Rosa, a long-awaited project that is now expected to start work in about two months.

The proposed California Wine Discovery Museum, occupying the building's lower level, would portray the past, present and future of California winemaking and would include wine tasting, said Lindsay Austin, a tech entrepreneur who is heading the nonprofit museum's board.

"It's a big mission," Austin said, and it depends on raising $2.5 million to acquire the exhibits and build the museum.

If the plan stays on track, the museum will open in early 2015 and serve as a "good first stop" for the 5 million people who come to Sonoma County for wine tasting each year, Austin said.

Santa Rosa developer Hugh Futrell said his purchase of the five-story concrete monolith on Third Street is expected to close Wednesday. Futrell is buying the long-vacant building from the city for $1,046,000, which he said was the midpoint of its appraised values.

City officials are reviewing plans for the demolition and construction permits needed to transform the windowless structure into a glass-clad office building. Futrell said he expects to start work in eight weeks.

"The city's been very receptive," he said.

Renovation of the old telephone company building has been the city's highest profile economic development effort for years.

Futrell's original plan called for expanding the five-floor building to 10 floors, with the upper five being developed for 43 apartments. The focal point of the venture was to be the Sonoma County Museum, which was to occupy the ground floor.

But years of delay led first to deletion of the residential portion of the project and then to the withdrawal of the county historical museum as a tenant.

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