If there’s one thing residents of Rohnert Park would like to see change, it is the creation of a vibrant local downtown. That’s the answer we heard from the community survey completed earlier this year. And we’ve heard similar comments many other times when we’ve met with residents.
In 2016, the City Council adopted a plan for a downtown that includes a mix of housing and retail businesses such as restaurants and shops, a walkable neighborhood and open public spaces. The City’s goal is to create such a downtown that incorporates the new SMART station, the former State Farm property, State Farm Drive as a “downtown street” south of Rohnert Park Expressway, and assets such as the plaza by the Public Safety station and the Library.
So if the City and our residents want a downtown, why can’t we build it ourselves? The short answer is money – it could easily cost over $30 million to buy the State Farm property and prepare it for development by building roads, sidewalks, water lines, and sewer pipes needed for a completely new use of the site. The City does not have this kind of money readily available. And even if we did, it would take millions more to build the housing, shops, and other features that we want from a downtown.
But just because the City can’t build the downtown ourselves doesn’t mean we can’t help make it happen. The City has several tools at our disposal to promote a downtown, and we are using them.
First, the City’s role includes setting the vision for a future downtown, or laying out our expectations. In 2016, after considerable public input, the City adopted a plan for central Rohnert Park which includes the State Farm property. This plan includes expectations for 400 homes close to the SMART train which will help provide a residential base to support shops and restaurants. The City plan calls for 150,000 square feet of retail development, about the same as Raley’s Town Center but in a very different form. It includes room for a plaza, walking paths, and office or civic buildings. The State Farm property is currently for sale by SunCal, who bought it in 2013. City staff are working with potential buyers of the State Farm property to make our expectations clear.
These conversations reflect a second role the City plays in promoting a downtown, which is to work with property owners to ensure development meets our expectations. A good example of this is the numerous discussions City staff are having with the new owners of Padre Town Center. They have a long-term vision to create a commercial area that fits in well with the City’s overall vision, and the City is working with the owner to make it a reality.
A third role for the City is to leverage our own and other public assets to promote a downtown. Years ago the City made a good start at this by locating the Library and main Public Safety Station in the future downtown area. The SMART station complements these investments. And by hosting the Farmers Market events each Friday evening in the summer, we are bringing ‘life’ to the area.
Finally, the City can also directly invest in the downtown. While we cannot afford to buy and develop the State Farm site, on August 8 the City Council will consider a proposal to purchase a prime downtown property. This purchase would allow the City to directly control development at a key and highly visible corner lot. Its purchase reflects the City’s optimism that we have a vibrant downtown in our future.
We know that residents are more than ready for a new downtown. We want them to know that we hear your interests, and are working diligently to bring the vision into reality.