City's business is development, says Salinger
The City of Santa Rosa should be in charge of building a food and wine center in Railroad Square, according to Michael Salinger, coordinator of the Culinary Arts program at Santa Rosa Junior College. He thinks the City should do the job because, "The city of Santa Rosa is essentially in the business of doing development".
The JC is about the only visible investor in the proposed F&WC so far. Voters probably still don't know they gave Salinger's program $4 million, when they approved the JC's $251 million bond Measure A in March 2002.
Just after it passed, a private group incorporated April 11 as the nonprofit Sonoma County Food and Wine Center. Salinger and JC vice president Curt Groninga are among its directors.
Now it looks like the promise of the JC's bond money may be all that's keeping the F&WC vision alive.
The City Council strongly supports Downtown/Railroad Square business--in fact, it just renamed the City's Department of Housing and Redevelopment "Economic Development and Housing". But the Council has also paid lip service to building a regional railway, with a station in Railroad Square.
Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART), a regional public agency, is in charge of the railway. Measure M just gave SMART $23 million, and it plans to put another bond measure on the 2006 ballot.
The Press Democrat reported Friday, "The city and the food and wine center group have outlined plans for an open-air farmers market, a wine-tasting and education center and a building to house the Santa Rosa Junior College cooking program. Santa Rosa officials want SMART to lease the land to the city so they can deal directly with developers. "
The 1998 R/UDAT Report recommended creating a small farmers market on Fourth Street, but the Council-funded CityVision group wanted more. CityVision and the Redevelopment Agency sponsored a Public Marketplace Feasability Study, and presented it to the Council at a 9/3/00 "Study Session". SRJC was the largest contributor to the study, presumably through CityVision.
The Council soon made it a formal goal to build a F&WC--without ever asking the public what we thought about it. Councilman Mike Martini, a partner in Taft Street Winery in Sebastopol, is a longtime major booster.
But the SMART directors tentatively agreed Thursday to hang onto their 5 1/2 acres in Railroad Square. San Rafael Mayor and SMART board member Al Boro said, "I don't think that just because we are another public agency our land is up for grabs."
The PD reported, "SMART board members insisted the decision won't mean the Sonoma County Food and Wine Center gets shelved, just that they would have the final say in the elements of the project so long as they meet city land use guidelines. SMART has put a heavy emphasis on affordable housing and combining residential and commercial uses, saying that will promote ridership of the passenger rail service it's planning.
Santa Rosa already faces a lawsuit contending that plans for Railroad Square don't include enough affordable housing. Some groups also say city plans don't sufficiently account for rail-transit opportunities." (3/11/05, "SR food and wine center hits snag/Regional transit agency balks at leasing land for Railroad Square development, seeks its own role")
F&WC boosters have a good relationship with the Council, and they don't want to work with SMART. Salinger told the PD the City knows its business, SMART doesn't:
"'SMART is a fairly new, fledgling operation that does not have the expertise to develop real estate at this point in time,' he said. 'The city of Santa Rosa is essentially in the business of doing development.' "
And Councilwoman Janet Condron fears investors who would deal with the City won't deal with SMART: "'If those kinds of things are going to have to go through the SMART process, they might walk,' she said. 'I have a high level of frustration if that is what happens.' "
But it's unclear whether there are any other serious investors. When the late Jim Brecht presented the Feasability Study to the Council, he said the project didn't pencil out, and suggested the Sonoma County Community Foundation might solicit donations to build it. The Community Foundation is another local nonprofit with interests in Railroad Square, including its Chop's teen center.
Salinger told the PD the Culinary Center is looking for another Railroad Square property to buy; and attorney John Mackie, vice president of Sonoma County Food and Wine Center, said his group might go somewhere else entirely:
"Food and wine center advocates are getting overtures from other communities to move the project elsewhere, according to John Mackie, the group's vice president. Cutting the city out of the lead negotiating role may push the group in that direction, he said.
'People who are in the food and wine world say, "Why don't you just give that up?"' he said of the Railroad Square location. 'I think we have to explore that.' "