‘Urban center’ developer buys 32 acres in Rohnert Park’s nascent downtown
There’s a new owner of the 32-acre former State Farm Insurance property adjacent to the Rohnert Park SMART station and key to the city’s dream of a downtown.
Laulima Development, which had been pursuing the 267-acre Alexander Valley Resort project near Cloverdale until early this year, led the Dec. 1 purchase of the Rohnert Park property, located at 6400 State Farm Drive south of Rohnert Park Expressway and between the road and the light-rail station. North Bay Community, LLC, an affiliate of Irvine-based SunCal, had bought the site in late 2013 from the insurance company, about three and a half years after State Farm vacated the 320,000-square-foot facility.
What attracted Laulima to buy the Rohnert Park property was it had the right amount of land, in the right place, next to the right transit and with the right attitude from local government, said David Bouquillon, one of the founders of the company nine years ago.
“I was surprised that there was even 30 acres that was assembled in the North Bay within an environment that could be a downtown and because of the SMART train,” Bouquillon said. “We’re urban-center guys.”
Transit-oriented development (TOD) is associated with various modes of public transportation, but Laulima focuses on TOD associated with light rail, he said. The purchase deal for the State Farm property was parallel-tracking with the rollout of initial service on the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit line, which started carrying paid travelers in September. The deal was in contract for sale for about four months and was partly postponed because of the October wildfires.
Laulima and SunCal came together for the sale through a mutual acquaintance in Southern California who knew of SunCal “decided not to continue with (its) proposed plans for Rohnert Crossings,” the company said in an email to the Business Journal, explaining the reason for the sale. That was the company’s name for the project.
“Although we were not able to proceed with this venture, it was a pleasure working with the city of Rohnert Park, and we wish them the best in the future development of this site,” the statement said.
Laulima talked with Rohnert Park officials throughout the due-diligence process leading up to the sale, and the development team found the government’s attitude refreshing, Bouquillon said.
“Every time we would walk in, they would ask, ‘What do you need? How can we help?’ That’s very rare in our business,” he said.
Though it is presenting its vision for the property to the City Council on Tuesday, Laulima plans to formally submit its proposed final development plan in two months. The intention is to lean toward the vision for the property laid out in the Station Center priority development area plan the city approved with its environmental impact report last year, Bouquillon said.
The city already approved a preliminary development plan and is developing a form-based Downtown Amenities Code for projects along State Farm Drive, including the 32-acre site, according to Mary Grace Pawson, director of city Development Services. The city held a community design charette on the code in November.
“With the change of hands of the SunCal project, we’re taking a pause to get coordinated with the new owner,” Pawson told the Business Journal.
At the City Council meeting presentation Tuesday, Laulima partner Jonathan “Jes” Slavik said the proposal will include 111,000 square feet of retail space, 65,000 square feet of offices, 415 residential units and a 136-room hotel. SunCal’s approved preliminary development plan called for 70,000 square feet of retail, 50,000 square feet of office and 400 dwellings. The city’s priority area development plan mirrors Laulima’s intention for the project, except for some retail space shifting to a hotel.