Thursday, May 13, 2004
Downtown interests must raise $1,000,000 by 5/25 to reunite Square
The project is a rare instance of Council hesitation to spend the local taxpayers' money to support its friends in the Downtown/Railroad Square business community. True, the Council subsidizes the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce in several ways, and the Chamber is the leading advocate for the Downtown/Railroad Square property and business owners and developers. And the Council is budgeting $150,000 to fund Santa Rosa Main Street, the private business group that's lobbying to reunite the Square.
The Council also paid for CityVision, the private group that preceeded Main Street following the 1998 R/UDAT visit. The R/UDAT visit itself was a product of the Council's Downtown Partnership Committee.
Main Street President John Sawyer, owner of Sawyer's News on Fourth Street, and acting Director Michelle Gervais, former Executive Director of CityVision, said one anonymous donor has pledged $100,000, and "downtown business interests" have put up another $100,000 between them. They said Main Street plans to raise another $1,000,000 later, to make further improvements to the Square.
The Council just paid for half of a $110,000 unification feasibility study by consultant Rick Williams. He told them reunification would have "general economic benefits", but "they are difficult to quantify."
Supporters want to get rid of the 16,000 vehicles a day that pass through the Square on Mendocino/Santa Rosa Avenues between Third and Fourth Streets, complaining that those people don't stop to spend their money. They point to historic squares in Healdsburg and Sonoma as centers of citizen and tourist activity for those small towns. But Santa Rosa has 154,000 residents in four distinct quadrants, and the original business district hasn't been the center of town for years.
The Council has spent millions on boondoggles like the Vineyard Creek Hotel & Spa and the Prince Memorial Greenway, while making it increasingly difficult and expensive to park and shop downtown. We can only hope the Council will not waste any more of the public's money on the Downtown/Railroad Square business interests' fantasies.