Prospects of Marin-Sonoma transit-oriented development: An interview with David Bouquillon of Laulima
The developer behind the $400 million Station Avenue project in Rohnert Park that's poised to roll the North Bay into the wider Bay Area and national world of transit-oriented development got its start a decade ago.
David Bouquillon and Jes Slavik founded San Francisco-based Laulima Development as a merchant developer, but over the past five years has transitioned to be more of a vertically integrated development group, owning and operating its investments.
That integration includes Laulima Partners, formed between Laulima Development and Highway 1 Hospitality to build boutique lodging. Other projects in the works now include resorts in the Lake Tahoe area.
Past projects include the 40-acre Santana Row Park mixed-use project in San Jose and 20-acre Bay Street new downtown for Emeryville. Laulima purchased the 32-acre Rohnert Park site in December 2017, got the city green light for Station Avenue in November, and demolition of the former State Farm Insurance building started at the beginning of this year. The goal is to have the initial parts of the project finished in 18 months.
The following are Business Journal conversations with Bouquillon on why the Sonoma County project will become a new type of magnet for jobs, shopping, entertainment and tourism. The interview has been edited for clarity.
We started off as a merchant developer. Then over the past five years we started to transition to a more vertically integrated development group that would own and operate the properties we invest in.
The name Laulima is a Hawaiian term: many hands working together - collaboration. I heard that as a young guy just out of college and it really stuck with me as I started to do mixed use because it really does take a team coming together in collaboration to pull one of these projects off.
I subscribe to the idea that there is no developer that does all of mixed use. You may do portions of it very well. One thing that we feel we don't do well that others do better is for-sale housing, so we would partner with someone who does that.
We're going to double down. We love the investment. With the SMART rail, it's something we're very focused on. It's going to bring a sense of urbane to this area but in a very conscientious way. Rail will take cars off the road; we subscribe to that. The urban centers we look at have a mixture of housing - for-sale; rentals - affordability; office component; retail - shop space, food and beverage.
We see the food and beverage component probably on the heavier side in ours, rather than a lifestyle center that relies on the shop space. We're more of an 18-hour-a-day district where you live, work, play is wrapped all into one.
It's strategically located in the North Bay. It's heavily on tourism up here. It reminds me a little of the East Coast, say the Hamptons. You are going to get a lot of tourism that's from the City (San Francisco) that would not necessarily come up here. Maybe, it's transportation; they didn't rent a car. I see that increasing the tourism, especially on our site.
Thirty-two acres is a big site, so you can create a lot of critical mass to make a great sense of place. … We really are creating our own district here. It's not only a downtown, but I think it is also a downtown for Sonoma County at that kind of scale. We are the first significant TOD project along the SMART rail, and we take that very seriously.
For the rail being SMART, the most inefficient leg of the line is built, the middle piece, but they had over a million riders last year, their first year in operation. When it's completed down to the Larkspur ferry, I think you're going to see a lot more velocity of ridership going north to south, south to north. Then when (it) goes to downtown Healdsburg … that's when it's really, really something special.