Imagine this proposal coming to your city’s leaders in today’s awful economic environment: Build a privately financed, state-of-the-art health club near downtown and adjacent to a rising heritage neighborhood with three stories of affordable senior housing on top.


Well, there is such a proposal surrounding Santa Rosa’s long-delayed Railroad Square SMART project. And it should be warmly and emphatically welcomed.

The first thing to understand is that this is not your ordinary health club.

Clubsource Development Partners, whose Club One facility in Petaluma has been a smashing success, sees itself as both a health club and a community partner, providing recreation opportunities that cash-strapped cities can no longer provide. It even sees having senior housing above a health club as an opportunity to innovate around easy yoga or other exercise programs for our elderly citizens.

I’ve argued in this space and elsewhere that Santa Rosa and the North Bay need a symbol of progress to bring us out of the economic funk. This project could be that symbol in the same fashion, though on a much larger scale, that the Golden Gate Bridge was during the Great Depression.

And the SMART project could use a lift, having been beset by a series of delays that brought setbacks such as the loss of the Santa Rosa Junior College culinary program. The economy, which has killed virtually any chance of financing for market-rate housing, has left the entire project on life support.

The Club One-senior affordable housing proposal -- there are two swimming pools planned, by the way ­-- would be a huge boost to the entire SMART project area. It would bring business-generating activity to the site and surrounding neighborhood and would protect state bond funding from being taken away because of lack of project readiness.

Moving the project forward does require changes to the agreement between developer The John Stewart Company and the regional SMART district. Santa Rosa does not control that, even though the city has the most to gain – or lose – from this.

One thing is certain. The economic environment today is nothing like what it was when the original agreements were drawn. Having a financeable -- and innovative -- project is indeed a rarity today.

One of the challenges the SMART project has faced is that it has too many masters – the regional board, labor, environmental and affordable housing advocates among them.

If for some reason one or more of these interest groups succeeds in delaying or rejecting the Club One-senior housing proposal, Santa Rosans need to understand a critical, job-generating infill project at the heart of their city is almost certainly dead for years to come.

That would be a terrible thing to let happen.

Read Mr. Bollinger's follow-up commentary, "Private capital, public goods."


Brad Bollinger is Business Journal editor in chief and associate publisher. He can be reached at 707-521-4251 or