More than two years ago, the city of Santa Rosa bought that 99,800-square-foot eyesore near Courthouse Square known as the AT&T building. It’s a massive, windowless building that has basically been little more than a storage unit for telecommunications equipment for years.

 

Now, the city has started looking for a partner to help develop the site. But it’s still not clear what is going to become of it.

 

When the city’s Redevelopment Agency bought it in March 2007 – for $3 million – the economy was very different. The thinking at the time was that the building could be coverted into office, retail or housing space – or some combination of all three.

But the market for all of those components has changed dramatically since then.

 

Nevertheless, after holding off its search for a while, Redevelopment Agency officials last month sent out a letter (an RFQ “request for qualifications”) seeking a developer with the expertise to turn the building into something Santa Rosa wants. Responses are due back by Nov. 12.

 

(To see the abundance of materials city officials is passing on to would-be developers, click here. I counted 78 documents in all, including a link to a virtual tour of the building. It’s worth watching if only to see the panoramic views atop this five-story building.)

 

The problem is that everyone has their own idea of what to do with the AT&T building, and history shows that these projects can become “Christmas trees,” on which everyone hangs their own idea (think Railroad Square project) or something that ends up getting bogged down by debate and waffling (think the former White House site.)

 

Ideas discussed so far during meetings and public workshops include:

A hotel and/or conference center

Shops (How about a grocery store?)

Condominiums

A cultural arts or performing arts center

A museum

A UC extension

A non-profit center

Or some combination of the above.

 

I suggest we also discuss what shouldn’t go on the site, including: a parking structure, a coffee shop, a bookstore (as much as I like these last two, we’ve already got plenty) and, most of all, a bank, investment or mortgage company.

Please, no more downtown. Nobody every said, “Let’s go downtown and window shop at the financial institutions.”

Yet, that’s a lot of what pedestrians get when they visit the Courthouse Square area.

It’s time for something different.

 

– Paul Gullixson