Rohnert Park residents turn out to show love for their city

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Hundreds of Rohnert Park residents turned out Sunday to show a little love for their fast-growing city of 43,000.

They sampled free food from local restaurants; played children’s games; and watched a youth talent show during the second annual “I Heart Rohnert Park” festival, which was held at the Rohnert Park Community Center.

“It is really to highlight what makes Rohnert Park great,” Cindy Bagley, the city’s community services manager, said about the celebration.

Attendees used different words to describe their town, nicknamed “the friendly city.”

As he scooped up popcorn at the local Rotary Club booth, Art Ferris said he loved the city because it’s “family friendly.”

“Community,” chimed in Wulff Reinhold, who was working the booth. “It’s coming into its own.”

The town, which was incorporated in 1962, has grown considerably since Fred Rohnert’s seed farm turned into a community with plentiful parks, public pools and tennis courts. Rohnert Park is sandwiched in between two major employment centers just outside its city limits: Sonoma State University to the east and the Graton Resort and Casino to the west.

The city now is undergoing an ambitious effort to develop a downtown center, which it has never had. The City Council late last year approved a $400 million redevelopment plan that calls for 460 apartments, a five-story luxury hotel and an area for restaurants, shops and business offices on the old State Farm Insurance site.

“There’s a lot going on here,” said Joe Callinan, a city councilman.

The event served as friendly reminder of all the community amenities that Rohnert Park offers, Callinan said, especially as the city has grown in recent years. It has seen an increase in the number of apartments for low- and middle-income families. The council also has approved projects for single-family residences, most notably the University District complex just north of Sonoma State.

“My dad was the very first city manager here. He made sure we had sports; and that means parks. It kept kids out of trouble, and still does today,” Callinan said.

At Sunday’s city festival, the food court was popular. Sam and Rula Hourania were passing out free small cups of their lentil soup — flavored with a touch of lemon — from their Sam’s Mediterranean Deli and Cafe. The store has been in business 14 years on the city’s west side.

“The thing about Rohnert Park is you have a variety of food everywhere. You don’t have to drive far away to get what you are looking for. It has almost everything,” Sam Hourania said. “Everyone’s so happy.”

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com.

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