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Rohnert Park is in the early stages of a massive downtown redevelopment plan that aims to create a new central hub for Sonoma County’s third largest city and recast it as a retail and commercial destination.

Set at the 32-acre campus south of Rohnert Park Expressway previously occupied by State Farm Insurance, the proposal imagines a quarter-billion-dollar mixed-use project that emphasizes dining, includes office space and helps shore up local housing needs. With sights set on the ambitious makeover, San Francisco-based Laulima Development closed a deal Dec. 1 for the existing 320,000-square-foot facility and the surrounding land vacated by State Farm in 2011 at a price of $13.5 million, according to the County Clerk-Recorder’s Office.

“For us, this is a portfolio project,” Jes Slavik, Laulima’s director of development, explained to Rohnert Park City Council earlier this week. “This is the project that we’re going to finish and then we’re going to go to the next one and we’re going to be able to say, ‘Look what we did here — isn’t this great?’”

Billed as Rohnert Station, the complete overhaul would tie into the North Bay’s new SMART commuter rail line with intentions of a fully integrated pedestrian-focused community. A nearby city square for large-scale public events, such as farmers markets, heritage celebrations, and wine or beer festivals, is also part of the forthcoming application.

Irvine-based developer SunCal had owned the site since buying the empty campus from State Farm in 2013. After years of negotiations with the city led to unrealized plans for a 117,700-square-foot retail and office development, and 27,000 square feet of flexible space for possible housing, the Southern California company finally scrapped its Rohnert Crossings project and jettisoned the property to Laulima.

With formal submission slated for January, the new developer now envisions 111,000 square feet of retail, 415 total housing units with the majority as above-retail rentals, and 65,000 square feet of office space located between them. The proposal presently pictures five-story buildings reaching a height of 65 feet, with the ground level for a variety of shops and entertainment, offices on the second floor and three levels for 270 apartments. Another 145 town homes would make up a handful of residential blocks.

“The office (space) is really important because in a lot of mix-use projects what you see is apartments over retail, and that’s a very, very difficult thing to do,” said Slavik. “It doesn’t always work well, because there’s a lot of conflict between apartments and retail, especially if it’s a restaurant. We work very, very hard to make sure that we minimize these kinds of conflicts.”

The preliminary designs for Rohnert Station, aimed at revamping the city’s current SMART platform into a complete station acting as a new gateway for the community, elicited measured excitement from City Council members.

“The downtown is finally going to happen,” said Councilman Amy Ahanotu. “The enthusiasm that I saw tonight hopefully carries forward in the years to come, because it’s not going to be easy. There is still a lot of work to be done.”

With prior California “urban center” projects under their belts, including Bay Street in Emeryville and Santana Row in San Jose, Laulima managing partner David Bouquillon told the council not to think of Rohnert Station as a “cookie-cutter” development, but one that could produce something truly special in the North Bay. And he is targeting early 2019 for breaking ground with the opening of the urban core by the fall of 2020.

“I really can’t compare this project to what we’ve done in the past,” he said. “When we first started looking at this opportunity … we said, ‘This is unbelievable and this is a great opportunity for us.’ In the months to come we’re going to get to know each other a whole lot better, I’m sure.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or at kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @kfixler.

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