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Santa Rosa starts Courthouse Square reunification work this week

Downtown Santa Rosa will be barely done cleaning up from one mess before it starts an even bigger one Monday.

With the Tour of California cycling race finished and the Rose Parade in the bag, major construction is set to begin Monday on the $9.2 million reunification of Old Courthouse Square.

The effort will turn the center of downtown in a noisy, dusty demolition zone for several weeks as workers cut down trees, remove fountains, rip out concrete, dig utility trenches and begin installing side streets to set the stage for the new square.

The work will create significant disruptions in the busy downtown commercial hub, routing pedestrians around the work zones and — later in the summer — permanently closing off the area to north-south traffic on Santa Rosa and Mendocino avenues.

But when completed by the end of the year, Santa Rosa will have what numerous city leaders, urban planners, and business leaders have long said the downtown desperately needs — a central plaza and flexible gathering space designed to breathe new vitality in the area.

“This is a huge deal for the city,” said Jason Nutt, director of transportation and public works. “It’s 30 years in the making.”

It’s also nerve-racking for business owners around the square who are facing the prospect of having their front yards torn up for months to come.

Sonu Chandi, the owner of three downtown restaurants, has been a supporter of the project as a way to revitalize the downtown, but last week he sounded a cautious note.

“I’m quite nervous, actually,” Chandi said.

The owner of BiBi’s Burger Bar on Third Street and Stout Brothers and the recently opened County Bench Kitchen + Bar, both on Fourth Street, Chandi said he worries that people will avoid downtown all together or will assume businesses are not open.

The city plans to install large banners reminding people that all businesses around the square are open during construction, said Julia Gonzalez, marketing coordinator for the public works department.

Gonzalez spent part of Friday preparing where signs will go, including where gaps in the fence will be placed to allow people to get a glimpse of construction. To assist in that effort, the city has installed a live web camera atop the Museum on the Square building.

The camera, which is somewhat wobbly in windy conditions, is designed to allow both live and time-lapse views of the construction. It can be found at www.srcity.org/chs.

Crews will begin installing fencing and signs around the two sides of the square Monday, leaving the four lanes of Mendocino Avenue flowing for now. They’ll begin removing items that will be preserved or moved, like benches and planters, and preparing the site for heavy construction Tuesday.

Businesses along what will become Hinton Street on the east and Exchange Street on the west will have to make some adjustments, Gonzalez said.

Flavor Bistro, for example, will lose its popular patio for much of the summer, Gonzalez said. The awning on the neighboring shuttered Rendezvous Bistro will also be removed. The steps are necessary for crews to have the space they need to work around the utility trenches, the city said.

New water and sewer pipes are being installed as part of the project, and getting those in the ground and the adjacent buildings connected is one of the primary goals of the first phase of the work, Gonzalez said.

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