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Santa Rosa is making a bid to bring the Amgen Tour of California back for a sixth year, but for the first time may propose moving the finish line out of downtown.

The 10-member committee that is putting together the application, including Santa Rosa Vice Mayor Gary Wysocky and county Supervisor Efren Carrillo, is trying to find a new approach that will lure riders back to Sonoma County and is concerned the downtown finish has proven to be too disruptive to traffic.

"The downtown is still in the running, but we need to think of other locations," said Raissa de la Rosa, city economic development specialist and committee member.

The group hopes to have the route still go through downtown Santa Rosa, but is focusing on the large sports fields at A Place to Play in west Santa Rosa for the finish.

"It is the hope to minimize the broader impacts, but have the experience focused within Santa Rosa," de la Rosa said.

The idea was met with criticism from downtown business owners, who say the crowds outweigh any inconvenience. The race drew an estimated 30,000 people downtown in both 2006 and 2007, although far fewer fans watched the rainy day finishes the last two years.

"Stupid," said Bernie Schwartz of California Luggage. "This is the heart of the region. I think it is great for the city, it is a great thing for the downtown."

"Downtown is also a better image of Santa Rosa to be nationally televised ... than the open fields of A Place to Play," Schwartz said.

"In addition, there are more amenities here — the bars, the restaurants, the shops," he said.

AEG, the Los Angeles sports company that owns the Tour of California, has been happy with the downtown finish, but is willing to consider a change.

"We like keeping our race fresh, more challenging and appealing to the riders and we like continuing to upgrade," said AEG spokesman Michael Roth. "If our partners feel changing the finish line is an upgrade, we will consider it."

Carrillo, a steering committee member, believes expanding the tour's presence with routes in other parts of the county will strengthen the bid.

"The goal is to bring the tour back for a sixth year in Santa Rosa and expand in the county as well," Carrillo said. "I think if we are going to build on the strength of the last five years of having it in Santa Rosa, Santa Rosa and Sonoma County are well-positioned to bring the race back, whether it is a stage finish or time trial or start."

An alternative to a downtown finish would avoid the gridlock caused when streets are closed on a weekday for an entire race day, but they could still keep the colorful spectacle of the cyclists and the peloton speeding through the downtown, organizers said.

It would also provide a bigger area for the finish and podium, one that could more easily handle the exposition tents and exhibitions while providing parking for both the fans and entrants.

There is a question of whether moving the finish would limit the size of the crowds, estimated to be 7,000 at this year's rain-plagued event in May.

Spectators spill out of downtown offices or arrive specifically to watch the race, tour the accompanying expo and jam downtown bars and restaurants.

"That is always speculative, how many would come out," said Wysocky. "My guess is they will because we are becoming recognized as a national cycling destination."

Business owners, however, still believe finishing in downtown is important.

"It's a big deal. This is where the people are, the people are downtown to see the race," said Natalie Cilurzo, co-owner of Russian River Brewing Co. "We are busy from the minute we open until we close. It is great."

Cilurzo said the brewpub contributed $5,000 toward the cost of bringing the tour and probably didn't reap an extra $5,000 in business, but felt it was an important event for downtown.

"We are fine every day of the week, whether we have a professional cycling event stop two blocks from the brewery or not," she said. "It's just nice to see all of downtown busy because of this event."

Chuck Hodge of Medalist Sports of Atlanta, Ga., who designs the stage routes for the tour, said he doesn't see downtown Santa Rosa as an obstacle.

"From us, the big thing is the flavor of the downtown, the restaurants for spectators to go to. It has a good vibe," Hodge said. "The negative is you have road closures in effect. Sometimes it is difficult for us to get the expo to fit into busier streets, but we have managed to work through that."

Organizers also believe they need to be creative and change things to get the event back for May 2011 because tour owner AEG intentionally moves it around to highlight different parts of California.

Santa Rosa has hosted the finish of a stage in downtown for all five years the tour has been run and one year also hosted a stage start from Railroad Square.

"For every event that we have put on, there have been logistical challenges that Medalist Sports and AEG have had to overcome," said Carlos Perez of Bike Monkey magazine, a steering committee member. "We have to be a hard sell, we have to put something together that is compelling to bring them back to Santa Rosa."

AEG is examining several different scenarios and has made no decisions, Roth said. But he noted that Santa Rosa is well-placed geographically for a transition stage of the race.

"Our goals continue to be to have a course that is challenging to the riders and really shows off the state in a very positive manner in terms of the scenery," Roth said. "We like to continue to expose the race to new cities, but we are also happy to come back to Santa Rosa."

Santa Rosa's steering committee has until Aug. 13 to submit its proposal.

The city doesn't pay a fee to AEG, but is required to shoulder the costs to police the event, block off the streets and feed and house the cycling teams, staff and media.

In May, de la Rosa said those costs were in excess of $175,000. They included renting 593 hotel rooms and providing 1,110 meals.

For the May 2011 event, it is expected to cost even more, with requirements for 670 hotel rooms and 1,220 meals, de la Rosa said.

The economic benefits far offset the costs, de la Rosa said. It was estimated the 2009 event brought in $1.4 million in tourist, supplier and consumer spending, generated $537,227 in employment payroll and $27,702 in sales and lodging taxes.

De la Rosa said the long-term impacts of the nationally televised Tour of California, which has evolved into the premiere U.S. cycling event, are harder to quantify but equally important.

"We are a completely different destination now because of the coverage we have gotten," she said. "Where we had one or two professional cycling teams training here, now it is not uncommon to have five. Look at the number of bike shops and side industries that have picked up.

"It is the ongoing effect we cannot track that is so interesting," she said.

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