Six years after Santa Rosa settled on a plan to reunify Old Courthouse Square, the city is no closer to being able to afford turning the bifurcated plaza into a $14 million downtown "living room."
It has, however, recently published an environmental report describing in the greatest detail yet just what it would take to pull off a remodel of that magnitude.
Traffic would be rerouted off Mendocino Avenue, dozens of trees would be removed, contaminated soils would likely be uncovered, and nearby businesses would be disrupted during construction, according to the draft environmental report released earlier this month.
But once the dust settles, the heart of downtown would be restored to its original layout with a unified central plaza suitable for concerts, art shows, farmers markets and a range of other public activities, according to the report.
Mayor Scott Bartley said he started out a skeptic of the project but has since "done a complete 180," fully supporting reunification and the design chosen by a city committee in 2007.
"My feeling is we've got to make this work, and I'm absolutely confident it's workable," Bartley said.
The good news from the report is that there were no major surprises, with most of the impacts foreseeable ones common to major public construction projects, Bartley said.
The bad news is the city doesn't have any money to actually build the thing.
A few years ago, the city was counting on the sale of the former AT&T building for about $2 million in seed money toward construction of the first phase of the project.
But since the state dissolved redevelopment agencies, the money from that sale, if consummated, will be dispersed to other taxing districts, such as the schools.
"That money all went up in smoke," said Rick Moshier, the city's director of Transportation and Public Works.
That leaves the city with just $119,000 raised years ago for the project, plus some limited funding for the restoration of streets or sidewalks after the aging water and sewer lines beneath the square are replaced, Moshier said.
The shortfall means the project will have to be built in stages and it will only happen with the help of private donations, Bartley said.
Once the report is certified and the council approves the final project design, Bartley said he plans to reactivate the council's Courthouse Square Committee, appoint some new faces with fundraising experience, and start making the pitch to the community.
"We recognize we have to go and act like a nonprofit does in the private sector and do a good old-fashioned capital campaign," Bartley said.
Private donations helped build the Prince Memorial Greenway, Finley Community Center and, most recently, the Person Senior Wing, Moshier noted.
Before the recession, Bartley said he and others envisioned raising the entire $14 million to build the project in one go. The new financial realities mean the fundraising and construction will have to be phased, Bartley said.
"I think we can break it into chunks that are doable," he said.
The first phase of the project would be to block off Mendocino Avenue between Third and Fourth streets, replace the road with a layer of decomposed granite, install new water and sewer lines under the east and west sides of the plaza, and rebuild Hinton and Exchange streets. A portion of the Rosenberg fountain in the northeast corner would be removed.