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Santa Rosa board OKs scaled-back Plaza plan

Friday, February 17th, 2012 | Posted by

Artist's rendering from ELS Architects of Santa Rosa Plaza's B Street entrance.


A more conservative remodeling of Santa Rosa Plaza won tentative approval from a city board Thursday but also criticism that it didn’t do enough to help bridge the barrier the mall creates between the east and west sides of downtown.

Simon Property Group returned to the city’s Design Review Board on Thursday for feedback on what it called a “completely fresh” approach to the facelift it wants to give the brick-covered mall, which opened in 1982.

Gone are the large, bright, square facades at the east and west entrances to the mall, which board members last year likened to “billboards.”

They’ve been replaced with more modest updates. A three-foot cornice will be added to the existing archway off B Street, and the brick around the existing entry will be reclad with tan concrete tiles.

“It’s not an aggressive counterpoint to the downtown and the historic district. It’s more of a comfortable and traditional approach,” Jamie Ruskin of ELS Architects said of the new design.

Several board members praised the plan as welcome improvements. But two were sharply critical of the failure of the plan to do more to improve “connectivity” through the mall, including the board’s former chairman, who was demoted over the issue.

“I’m disappointed,” Ken MacNab said after the meeting. “If people can’t get to their employment on the other side of the mall, I don’t know what incentive there is to get on that train.”

Passengers using the future SMART train station in Railroad Square will need to walk through the mall to get from one side of downtown to the other or, if the mall is closed, will have to walk around it.

MacNab was chairman of the design board when it required a connectivity study as a condition of approval of a portion of the project the mall hoped to complete before Christmas.

The mall objected to that requirement, and later withdrew its application, claiming it wouldn’t make the exterior improvements at all if it had to go through the design review board. Mayor Ernesto Olivares demoted MacNab in October over the decision. The City Council overturned the decision in December, sharply rebuking the board for overstepping its authority and failing to work collaboratively with the mall.

Councilman Jake Ours said he was pleased Simon Property Group had decided to submit a new application.

“They must have heard what we said because we did say we screwed up pretty badly,” Ours said Thursday.

Asked about the mall’s change of heart, Kelly Hartsell, a Simon regional vice president, said “because of our relationship with the city, we didn’t want to walk away.”

She acknowledged the mall was frustrated with the previous process. Much of what the 700,000-square-foot mall is trying to do, such as improving lighting and accentuating the entrances, should help draw people into and through the mall, she said.

“We really feel like we are adding connectivity as part of the redesign,” Hartsell said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com.

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Ann Hutchinson is our Santa Rosa correspondent.
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