By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa continues to lay the groundwork for the reunification of Courthouse Square despite having neither wide public support for the project nor the $14 million to build it.
Plans calls for closing off the one-block section of Mendocino Avenue that bisects the 1.5-acre park, rerouting that traffic along B and E streets, and giving the park a complete makeover.
The idea has been around since the mid-1990s, but gained momentum in 2008 when the city selected an architect to design it.
Since then, the city’s budget woes have slowed the project, but the City Council remains committed to seeing it through, said Councilman Scott Bartley.
“It is one of the council’s top priorities,” Bartley said. “The dream would have been that we could have moved a lot faster, but it took us a little to get the money scared up.”
B Street has been reconfigured to handle the additional traffic, and the sewer and water upgrades under way on Third Street are aimed at supporting reunification.
An environmental review for the project is next, at a cost of about $150,000. After that’s done in about nine months, construction drawings will be commissioned, which will cost about $350,000. That should leave the project ready to break ground in spring of 2013, said David Gouin, the city director of economic development and housing.
Gouin will give the City Council an update on the project at its meeting tonight.
Because the city doesn’t have the funds to build it all at once, the work will be done in phases. The first will entail the closure of Mendocino through the park, and the construction of two one-lane streets connecting Third Street and Fourth Street along the eastern and western edges of the park, streets once called Hinton and Exchange.
This will restore the square to a layout similar to what existed prior to 1966, when the courthouse that occupied the site was deemed vulnerable to earthquakes and torn down.
“It won’t be everything we want, but it’s going to a presentable solution,” Bartley said.
The first phase of the project is estimated to cost between $3.2 and $3.8 million, Gouin said. Some potential funding sources for the first phase have been identified by staff, but the council has yet to sign off on them. These include money set aside for upgrades to the water and sewer lines under the park, redevelopment funds and park development fees, among others, Gouin said.
Even with those sources, “there’s still a gap,” Gouin said, meaning the council will have to find other additional revenue.
Money has yet to be identified for subsequent phases of the park. They include construction of a glass water wall, an overhead light arbor, several areas to stage musical and cultural events, a cafe, restrooms and new landscaping.
Polls have shown the public is skeptical of the value of the project, and Bartley said he was once, too. But now he’s convinced it will provide a crucial economic and psychological boost for the downtown.
“I know this is the right thing to do for the city” Bartley said. “If I based my support on what the polls said, we wouldn’t touch it. But I don’t care what the polls say. I know what the city needs.”
If the project moves forward on a track similar to that of the nearby Museum on the Square commercial and residential project on the site of the former AT&T building, people would see the city is serious about revitalizing the downtown, he said.
“That would be a huge shot in the arm for the impression of what our downtown is,” Bartley said.
Bartley predicted that once people see the unified space, they’ll understand the change and support it.