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Organizers of Santa Rosa's section of the Tour of California have changed gears and are focusing their bid for a race stage to finish in the downtown area, where it has been for five years, instead of moving it to a westside park.

"The downtown finish was always on the table, it was never off the table, but we thought we would highlight the other options," said Raissa de la Rosa, Santa Rosa economic development specialist. "We were simply going to increase the visibility of other options."

De la Rosa said proposing to move the finish to the sports fields at A Place to Play was a reaction to negative comments from residents regarding the closure of downtown streets during a work day.

"All the previous four years, despite the rain, we would get these e-mails saying great event, love having it here, but last year it was all negative, it was depressing, it was all about traffic and frustrations," de la Rosa said.

"That did sway our thought process for this year."

Two weeks ago, when the committee began putting together its bid, merchants were among the most ardent in wanting to keep the finish, the podium and the carnival-like event downtown.

"It created a lot of excitement downtown, it was a lot of fun," said Sean Messana of Rendez Vous Bistro, who was puzzled why organizers would consider moving it away from downtown.

"Did it increase our business? I don't know. But it increased our exposure," Messana said. "People saw our restaurant and menu, they saw other restaurants, we will get people who will come back later."

Any downtown event, such as the Tour of California and the Wednesday Downtown Market, helps the downtown overall, said Mario Ausiello of Ausiello's Fifth Street sports bar.

"We had a lot of people here, they were watching it on TV. It definitely picked up here," Ausiello said. "It'd be cool having it downtown again."

The event has drawn crowds as large as 35,000, but last year because it was on a weekday and was raining, crowds were estimated to be 7,000.

De la Rosa is part of the 10-member organizing committee, which includes Supervisor Efren Carrillo and Santa Rosa Councilman Gary Wysocky, that is putting together the bid to bring the tour back for a sixth year.

The deadline to submit the bid to AEG, the Los Angeles sports company that owns the tour, is Friday.

Santa Rosa's organizing committee is also trying to get sponsors to pledge $75,000 by Friday, or it may not submit the bid. So far it has $10,000 in pledges.

It also expects that Levi Leipheimer's King Ridge Granfondo, scheduled for Oct.9 and attracting 6,000 participants, will contribute $60,000.

The city doesn't pay a fee to AEG, but must pay for all the costs, including closing the streets, policing the event and feeding and housing the bicycle teams and event staff.

De la Rosa said it is expected to cost $200,000. The salary of De la Rosa, the city's only staff member for the event, is paid from redevelopment funds.

In the five years the Tour of California has been held, it has evolved into the top U.S. bicycle race drawing elite cyclists and international teams.

Santa Rosa has hosted stage finishes in the downtown and one year hosted a start at Railroad Square.