September 19 2013

Santa Rosa Infill Project Falls Short of Expectations

The idea began with great intentions: tear down a blighted building in Santa Rosa’s underused Courthouse Square and replace it with a multi-story mixed-use tower. The building in question, an antiquated AT&T long-distance switching facility, is an architectural eyesore and a barrier to Santa Rosa’s potential to create a thriving downtown. However, three years and $5 million later, the redevelopment project tasked to remove it has experienced several budget and planning setbacks, and the structure still stands.

Northern facade of the AT&T switching facility, Santa Rosa, CA

Santa Rosa’s redevelopment agency purchased the AT&T building in 2005 for $3 million, with the hope that it could be torn down and replaced. This became a reality in 2010 when the developer Hugh Futrell bought the structure, intending to partner with the architecture firm TLCD to transform it into a mixed-use tower. Futrell also planned to dedicate the ground floor of the building to the Sonoma County Museum, which was looking to be relocated from its current site on the edge of downtown. Aptly named “Museum on the Square,” the project exemplified mixed-use development by including:

  • Below-ground parking;
  • Contemporary glass-clad architecture;
  • Street-level restaurants;
  • Four floors of office space; and
  • Five additional floors of luxury apartments.

Artist rendering of Museum on the Square, Santa Rosa, CA

Museum on the Square was anticipated to have begun housing residents by 2012; but the project experienced several setbacks in 2011, following the passage of California State Assembly Bill ABx1 26. The bill dissolved Santa Rosa’s redevelopment agency and created a massive bureaucracy that now controls the project. The demise of the agency and the inability to secure tax-credit financing created uncertainties for the projects investors, which necessitated Futrell applying for four contract extensions.

The most recent extension gives Futrell until the end of 2013 to close escrow on the property, and has forced him to eliminate costly plans to add residential space atop the Museum on the Square structure. Additionally, the Sonoma County Museum recently backed out of the project due to the excessive delays. Nevertheless, Futrell and city officials remain optimistic, and feel that anything will be better than the existing building.

What do you find are the biggest financial barriers to mixed-use development projects?

Credits: Images by Nick Danty and TLCD Architects. Data linked to sources.

Nick Danty

Nick Danty is a graduate of the Geography and Planning Department at California State University, Chico and currently works at the Sonoma County Regional Climate Protection Authority (RCPA) in Santa Rosa. Nick has been involved in several programs at RCPA, but is most proud of the 2013 Bicycle and Pedestrian Count Project, for which he served as the project manager and outreach coordinator. A Northern California native who calls his single-family detached dwelling home, Nick is not a stranger to the ills of suburban sprawl and the toll it takes on human and physical environments. Nick’s travels to Europe and throughout North America have shown him preventing and retrofitting sprawl is possible through intelligent neighborhood design, beautiful architecture, mitigation banking, innovative transit systems and visionary urban and rural plans. He is very excited about writing for The Grid, and plans on discussing projects and programs happening at his agency related to transportation planning, climate adaptation, livability, urban land development, and environmental conservation.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, September 19th, 2013 at 9:40 am and is filed under Architecture, Community/Economic Development, Land Use, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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