After a summer of intense use, Santa Rosa’s newly reunified Old Courthouse Square was beginning to show signs of abuse.
Grease and food stains turned the pavers beneath the benches black.
Tire marks where bicyclists skidded to an abrupt halt scarred the granite.
White paint mistakenly used instead of chalk to mark the location of vendor stalls defied efforts at removal.
And the verdant green cross of turf in the center was showing more than a few yellow patches.
Developer Hugh Futrell, who before the $10.5 million square even opened warned about the risk of not properly maintaining it, said he watched with growing concern over the summer as the condition of the square deteriorated.
His concerns were validated when out-of-town visitors saw the square for the first time and were appalled.
“They said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. You built this infrastructure and you let it look like this?’ ” Futrell recalled.
In response to the wear and tear, the city in recent days has been power washing the square, with city crews hitting the street and sidewalks and a contractor tackling the interior hardscape made up mostly of permeable pavers.
“With all the events they were having down here this summer, it was getting out of control,” Bob Elder, owner of S&B Soda Blast, said Wednesday.
Elder and an employee spent several days using commercial power washers to shoot 230-degree water into the pavers and blast away the grease, grime and gunk that had accumulated over the summer. The work is expected to be finished this week.
The city says it needed to wait until the end of the busy summer schedule to start the power washing program. It is committed to making sure the square is properly maintained, said Raissa de la Rosa, economic development manager.
Events drawing tens of thousands to the square included the Luther Burbank Rose Parade, two Ironman triathlons, a marathon complete with beer festival, a Mini Cooper festival, eclipse viewing and numerous Wednesday Night Markets and flea markets, just to name a few.
But concerns linger among downtown merchants and property owners.
In January, they formed the Downtown Action Association to advocate for a special district to raise money to market downtown and maintain it at a higher level than the city typically provides.
Progress forming an assessment district that would pay for higher levels of services needed downtown has been slow. The city hired a San Diego consulting firm, New City America, to help with its formation. What had been envisioned as a property-based Business Improvement District raising about $800,000 per year toward downtown services has been supplanted by plans for a Community Benefits District, which is viewed by the consultant as more flexible and easier to implement.
But at the current rate, the district isn’t expected to be formed until next spring. The boundaries of the district have yet to even be decided upon.
That’s a troubling delay for some downtown interests who praise the city for the work it did to build the square but now worry about the follow-through.