Sunday, January 15, 2006

Bender says Downtown bike race benefits SR--Council to spend $60,000

Forget the City Council’s commitment to reunification of Old Courthouse Square. Forget Councilman Bob Blanchard’s and real estate man Ross Liscum’s plan for a Sonoma County War Memorial statue.

City Hall’s latest Courthouse Square and Downtown business promotion is a February 20 bicycle race: the very first Amgen/AEG Tour of California.

The Press Democrat reported today,

Sports conglomerate AEG has made a five-year, $35 million commitment to the race and envisions 1 million spectators along the race course, which will be televised nationally on ESPN2, a sports cable network.

Amgen, a biotech firm, is the primary commercial sponsor of the race, but AEG, a conglomerate with sports holdings that include the Los Angeles Kings of the National Hockey League, owns the event.” (PD, 1/15/06, “SR to draw thousands for cycling race/State's 600-mile tour down coast to attract as many as 30,000 spectators in key downtown stop”)

The Council has committed the taxpayers to pay for the promotion, but Mayor Jane Bender expects local business to make money:

Santa Rosa will seal off much of downtown and provide $60,000 in services for what is being billed as the biggest cycling race in the country.”

Backers and organizers said 30,000 or more spectators could flock downtown, making it a bigger event than Santa Rosa's Rose Parade and Festival held in May. Organizers acknowledge that predictions for spectator turnout and local interest are mere guesses for an event the likes of which the city and California has never seen.

The core of downtown will be closed to traffic for at least two hours and other streets will be limited to one-way traffic. A free festival in Courthouse Square on race day will feature bike safety demonstrations, a fitness expo, kids' zone, cycling products and entertainment.

The $60,000 in public services includes public safety measures, road closures and extra staff. City Hall has committed $25,000 and is seeking donations and sponsors for the remainder.

’The benefit to the city in terms of hotel rooms and restaurants and the vitality is much more than that,’ said Mayor Jane Bender. Potential dividends from TV coverage and tourism have attracted participation from businesses and the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau. [In fact, the City doesn't have a Convention and Visitors Bureau. The Council supports the Chamber's C&VB, with the taxpayers' money.]

A 30-second commercial featuring the city will air on ESPN2, which is providing daily coverage of the race.”

’It's a far larger production than most people realize,’ said Bill Carson, general manager of the Fountaingrove Inn in Santa Rosa. His hotel already is sold out on race day.”

Carson, the hotelier who serves on the boards of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce and the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau, said all of his 124 rooms have been reserved for race day. The hotel averages a 50 percent occupancy rate in February, so the race has been a boost already, he said.

The real seven-day, 600-mile race will go south from San Jose to Redondo Beach. We can only imagine why the "backers and organizers" decided to start the race by peddling north:

The first full stage of the eight-day, European-style road race will begin in Sausalito and end in Santa Rosa with a biking and health festival. The race picks up the next day in San Jose and heads south, concluding Feb. 26 in Redondo Beach.”

The Feb. 20 stage will bring riders north on Highway 1, through west Sonoma County and into downtown Santa Rosa at about 2 p.m. The details of the rural part of the route have not been settled because of recent storm damage to many roads.

After three laps around a 3-mile downtown circuit, racers will sprint to the finish line on Third Street, just east of Santa Rosa Avenue.

Looks like the local hotels and restaurants may make some money—probably from the promoters and participants in the event--and the taxpayers will pay the bill. SR taxpayers also pay to support the Chamber's Santa Rosa Convention and Visitors Bureau, which benefits businessmen like Chamber director Carson.

We can only imagine where those 30,000 spectators are going to find a parking place in Downtown Santa Rosa—and whether those who do will actually spend any money in Downtown/Railroad Square.