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Santa Rosa seeks funding for Railroad Square project

Artist's rendering of the New Railroad Square project

By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa is hoping to kick-start a transit-oriented development in Railroad Square by going after $7.1 million in federal grants and loans for a key portion of the project.

The City Council next week will consider whether to seek federal financing to help San Francisco developer John Stewart build a $48 million portion of a mixed-use project west of a future rail station.

This first phase of the New Railroad Square Project calls for construction of a two-story health club topped by 82 rental units. It would be located on the 2.1-acre site of a former cannery on Third Street, whose brick walls have been propped up for years awaiting construction.

The mixed-use development is part of a $200 million project, covering 7.4 acres, that would create a food and wine center and additional offices, shops and housing on the neighboring property owned by the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit station.

“It’s a transformative project for our city,” said Frank Kasimov, economic development specialist for the city.

The city wants to apply to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for two types of financing. A $1.5 million grant would help cover the cost of additional clean-up of contaminated soil on the site, which contained an underground fuel tank and massive crude oil bunker. The other is a $5.6 million low-interest loan aimed at helping redevelop the site.

“Not only does it transform a vacant parcel in Railroad Square into something that’s vital and active, but it also generates economic activity,” Kasimov said.

More than 1,000 jobs and tens of millions of dollars in economic output are expected to be generated by the project long-term, he said.

The additional funding is key because a $11.4 million state grant won for the project in 2010 is set to expire at the end of 2012, Stewart said. To date, the city and state have committed $18.6 million in financing toward the total project.

A high priority for the city for years, the development has been stalled by contamination on the site, negotiations with SMART, which owns the portion of the site closest to the rail line, and the collapse of the lending market.

Stewart’s firm, the John Stewart Co., has owned the property since 1999, and he had originally hoped to see the project completed mid-decade.

“We did not realize how complicated it was going to be,” Stewart said.

As it is, the company already has invested more than $7 million in the property, including significant environmental remediation, Stewart said.

The firm has hired an expert in HUD loans and the climate in Washington is good for projects like the one he’s proposed, Stewart said.

“The current administration is very keen on mixed-use and transit-oriented development,” Stewart said.

The city’s backing is required for the HUD loan. If the loan to the developer goes bad, the city would repay it out of federal grant money dedicated to affordable housing.





23 Responses to “Santa Rosa seeks funding for Railroad Square project”

  1. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Joseph Donegan-All county and city buses stop downtown. There isn’t any reason to drive your car unless you are far from a bus stop. You can also bike (a secured checkin for bikes and motor scooter would be nice).

    People, get out of your cars. At least TRY IT ONCE to get downtown or to work on the bus.

  2. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Billy C-it’s not progressives who are behind this. You can bet that contractor votes Republican.

    As for jobs, how nice. Will they be union jobs, with decent wages and benefits? This is the progressive viewpoint. And why isn’t it a Sonoma County developer who uses local labor being looked at? One who buys from local businesses.

    And those jobs it will create once it’s built-union with decent wages or more lowpaying jobs?

  3. Social Dis-Ease says:

    Let’s make Tues. nights a time to connect with each other, and observe the disconnect of our ICLEI employed City Council. Exchange ideas, e-mail, ph.#s. Our world is run by those that SHOW UP. Tell them you don’t want it. Remind them that they work for US. Use your voice. Be RESPONSE-ABLE.

  4. Liz says:

    note to all who are not happy wit this project…..attend next tuesday’s city council meeting and fill out a comment card and speak to the council letting them know what you think!
    http://ci.santa-rosa.ca.us/doclib/agendas_packets_minutes/Pages/20110712_CC_Agenda.aspx
    It’s item 11.6 and the more people who speak out and let the city council know how we feel the better.
    For not attending the city council meeting it is as if you trust the council to do a good job and do what you want of them. That is not true, You voted for the city council member now you need to follow up and let them know how you want them to represent you their constituent.

    This project will have low income housing included as it is a requirement of the SMART Train. And then for those of us who would need to drive and park to take the train we now have no place to park.
    This entire project including the train is way out of control! Please stop trying to change us from the beautiful place I grew up in. Fix the roads, pull the weeds and water the trees!!!! and keep Santa Rosa and Sonoma county the beautiful rural suburban community I knew and loved.

  5. Joyce Garcia says:

    “The City Council next week will consider whether to seek federal financing to help San Francisco developer John Stewart build a $48 million portion of a mixed-use project west of a future rail station.”

    Federal financing?…..Our Nation is in a financial crisis, Washington continues to play political games, California is struggling to stay afloat and our local Government officials continue to hold their hands out for alms. These people just don’t get it! Rather than seeking federal financing….with their “brother can you spare a dime” mentality, they need to take a look around and get our house in order! They need to realize the Government is on borrowed time and the money they spend will have to be paid by our children and our grandchildren?
    And when are we going to see the council chambers full of people who live in Santa Rosa on a regular basis,in all our city halls for that matter, telling these incompetent councilmembers that this is NOT what the people want? Our local officials need to be put on notice and have to be held accountable! These people shame the seats they sit in and if we continue to allow this, we are no better!

  6. Council Watcher says:

    This is the latest idea for the SMART site in Downtown and the most absurd to date. 65 very low income apartments located above a swank health club. Please. 200 jobs. Millions in economic output? Vital and attractive? Food and Wine Center?

    This is plain an simply a bailout of a poorly conceived progressive pie in the sky project that never had a chance. The project has changed so many times over the last 8 years, a good CEQA attorney could have a field day with this one.

    A few questions; where will the very low income residents take the train? To their very low income jobs in Marin? Where will they dine at the very low income wine bars and restaurants in Railroad Square.

    No Bob theirs more. A parking lot on the Santa Rosa Creek for the Club One folks.

    So to be clear the city has not received an application on this latest “plan” so at this point their is no project, just ideas and schemes from a San Francisco developer who wants out.

    This one is dead on arrival.

  7. Philip says:

    Have what you will with Wal-Mart but leave Cheesecake Factory out of this!

  8. Jim M says:

    Money coming in from out of the area which will provide jobs – doesn’t seem like a bad idea.

  9. Pearl Alquileres says:

    Santa Rosa politicians are hoping to kick-start campaign funding by going after $7.1 million in federal grants and loans to line the pockets of key campaign contributors.
    …oh yeah, and build a New Railroad Square Project.

  10. Greg Karraker says:

    Here’s a mixed-use, transit-friendly thought: How about three bedrooms and a bath located immediately above a living room, dining room, kitchen, and bath? All in close proximity to a garage containing two cars, which can take you almost anywhere? Note to local planners: This highly practical concept is called a house.

  11. Alex says:

    Do they realize that a petition to recall that transit tax is in the works…I bet it will pass with about 65% or higher…so there will be no train. I think people are getting wiser or just tired from paying for taxes upon taxes that either cater to the poor and ignorant or protect the rich…the middle class is finally waking up and saying enough is enough.

  12. Fiscal Conservative says:

    It seems to me, people do not want to live in the ‘little Moscow’ communities.

    All of the examples of this model have gone bankrupt. The condo’s and commercial space sit’s empty.

    Rather than using a model that fits the United Nations agenda, why not support a free market approach and let somone come up with an idea that may be profitable?

    I do not see this as a good use of my hard earned taxpayer dollars. I see it as another backroom public/private relationship backed by the agenda of the red collective.

    The City has been promising to do something with railroad square for decades now. Two top-end hotels were built, both have gone bankrupt.

    The city rebuilt the park behind the creek, but the new bathrooms are allways locked becouse the ‘homeless’addicts would pass out inside them. The new paths by the creek are no place to walk with children.

    I personally liked the idea of having a large train museum at this site, something like Sacramento’s Old Town.It would be an attraction to draw people downtown. As it is, it’s all hobo’s and only a few rail cars.

    No tourist, or local for that matter, wants to visit railroad square while the ‘homeless’ heroin addicts commit crimes, urinate on themselves and pass out in the street.
    The three most sucessful businesses in railroad square
    have full time employees who shoo-away the junkies.

    One of the largest problems in the area is the support of the City for the groups that cater to the ‘homeless’. They have given free operating permits without end dates that have no review or inspections.

    Railroad square should be a first class attraction to draw people downtown. Instead it is the shambles of socialist mentality blight.

  13. Billy C says:

    This is what the progressives (ADC,SCBC,HAG)
    have been planning for years. Its just the start of this type of development. Thousands of very high density units are
    planed to replace the business property from Sebastopole Rd north to Collage Ave.
    The ramshackle ghetto right next to the proposed station will be preserved as a “historical” neighborhood.

    Its called the Station Area Plan.

    My deepest sympathy’s to those who love Santa Rosa and help build this community.
    Times are changing. The “new” Santa is not intended for us old school car culture folks. Sorry

  14. J.R. Wirth says:

    If it made sense, especially in this economy, private funding would have been secured already. This is all about wheeling and dealing with taxpayer money by a clique at the top of the pyramid.

    Politicians love projects like this, they want an economy planned (by them) using other peoples money. If the city council were required to put up their own retirement fund as collateral on this project, would it be approved?

  15. Steve Klausner says:

    @Frank
    This is a shell game, only a few of the units will be set aside for low income housing. These are going to be high end condos with all the amenities. If (when) this deal goes south, HUD, which is supposed to provide housing for poor folks, bales them out.

  16. Frank says:

    The city’s backing is required for the HUD loan. If the loan to the developer goes bad, the city would repay it out of federal grant money dedicated to affordable housing.
    And then will have more gang related programs. Taxpayer beware
    yes i am an expert, ask me how many PW projects i have been on in the bay area

    “We did not realize how complicated it was going to be,” Stewart said.
    Your in California and this is Sonoma county where the Salamander and the owl rule “Get thje Sand out of your eyes”

  17. Mike says:

    Millions to be spent on a health club located over “low income housing”? What could go wrong here? This all makes sense in the dreamland that is Santa Rosa, SMART train planning.

    This must be a joke, but wait, this is Santa Rosa and they are serious about social welfare programs and spending federal, state and local tax dollars on “green” jobs, housing and boondoggles. I give you the $40+ million dollars training room for the Santa Rosa public works employees. All of that paid for from our outrageous sewer fees.

    They want to spend $200 million on a wine and food center at the train station? Have they looked at the same type of center in Napa that went bankrupt. No, this all makes sense to those who dream while spending our tax money.

    I wonder how these people would spend their money if it was their personal funds going into wine and food centers and health clubs over low income housing?

  18. bill says:

    This doesn’t sound well thought out from the get go. All you have to do is look at then residential neighborhood adjacent to the site to know it isn’t a proper match for such a huge investment.

    Apartments on top of a health club? What have they been smoking?

    HUD won’t go for it.

  19. Joseph Donegan says:

    The appropiate use for the property is a large parking garage for the residents of all of Santa Rosa. We need a central place to park before we hop on the train to the cities. A lot of people live in Santa Rosa, who would use the train if they can make the trip to the station in their cars. It works in the rest of the bay area rail system, why import more poverty and exclude the needs of the local residents and their transportation needs.

  20. Revitalization supporter. says:

    Let the living units sell for market value. No more low income housing downtown.

    Don’t be a sellout for free funding.

  21. Steveguy says:

    LAST LINE ” The city’s backing is required for the HUD loan. If the loan to the developer goes bad, the city would repay it out of federal grant money dedicated to affordable housing. ”

    And them take it from another, and another, and another and another already ‘dedicated’ monies ? We have seen that scam, and is driving us into turmoil.

    Look at what the same type of developers have built. Windsor Town Green, out Sebastapol Road, bankruptcies and lawsuits for the same type of development.

    When do we see through their deceit and greed ? ?

    When ?

    When the FBI looks into this scam ? When ?

  22. Steve Klausner says:

    SMART was never about transportation for current taxpayers. It has been a real estate scam disguised as social engineering, concocted between burned out environmentalists who have given up on saving fish and their former adversaries, the developers who are not above grabbing a little government money. The bastard child of Karl Marx and Adam Smith.

    Here’s the irony. by the time these condos are built the sales tax will have expired. Our transit villagers get a free ride. Unless of course train funding crashes and in that case they are conveniently located next to the most congested intersection in Sonoma County.

  23. Levi says:

    Is looks like the same Urban Spawl that has popped its head into towns like Windsor, Petaluma and small towns all across the nation. I thought Libs where against the cookie cutter business place? My God , next they will put in a SuperWalmart, Lowes , Cheesecake factory ect. It Santa Rosa becoming more conservative? Everyone hopes so, its been long overdue