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.