A 2-acre property owned by Rohnert Park that houses the city’s storage and maintenance yard has become a sticking point delaying construction of the long-desired downtown square — and could possibly upend the $400 million project altogether.
Laulima Development, which owns the adjacent 32-acre former State Farm Insurance site set for the grand city center called Station Avenue, accuses the city of reneging on a piece of the development agreement struck with the City Council in November. As part of the deal, the San Francisco company claims the city agreed to sell the maintenance yard for $1 million.
Believing it had an understanding with the city, Laulima began demolishing the 320,000-square-foot facility this past winter, managing partner David Bouquillon said. That process wrapped up in the spring, but Bouquillon said he won’t sink any more money into building the mixed-use project decades in the making until he receives a guarantee on the city-owned property needed for a commercial parking lot.
“We’ve spent $20 million in good faith including purchase of the property, and also reimbursed the city for staff time of over $1.5 million, and now they need to perform,” said Bouquillon. “It’s a clean and buildable site. It’s in the city’s court, and they’ve been put on notice that we’re on hold.”
The details of the agreement, however, state only that the city will sell a sixth of an acre of the property, where Rohnert Park’s public works department is also now housed, for $300,000 so the developer can use it to access the site while building the project’s first phase. Intent to sell the remaining property in a separate agreement, at a price determined later while the city finds another a site to relocate, is also listed in the documents.
Laulima had been targeting what all parties acknowledge was an aggressive timeline, hoping to open its 270,000 square feet of office space, restaurants and boutique retail stores in the fall of 2020. The completion date would be just in time for the holiday season, with 460 apartments and a five-story luxury hotel set to follow in spring 2021.
The city rejects Bouquillon’s position on the so-called corporation yard, located on the southeastern edge of the project. But without a final deal in hand that includes the transfer of the property over a two- to three-year period, he said those dates are now up in the air.
“Fall is definitely in jeopardy,” said Bouquillon, who has overseen similar urban core projects around the Bay Area, including San Jose’s Santana Row and Emeryville’s Bay Street. “These delays are lengthy, and once you lose time you can’t get it back. We’ll work with the city on timing, but our stance has always been that we were never going to make an investment of this kind next to an old corporation yard. Absolutely not.”
In March, the City Council rejected a staff recommendation to hire an architect to draw up building plans and determine the total cost of relocating the maintenance yard to a different city-owned tract of land. City Manager Darrin Jenkins has previously estimated that it could be in the range of $5 million, according to Vice Mayor Joe Callinan.
“I can’t see us going into debt to move those buildings. That’s not a smart move,” said Callinan. “If he wants us to move, it shouldn’t cost us anything. They’ve got to make it worth our while. I’ve said that since Day 1, and I still say that.”
This story originally appeared on PressDemocrat.com, also part of the Sonoma Media Investments news network.