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The Santa Rosa CreekWalk:Creating a 21st Century Downtown Destination

Author: Jim Johnson
October, 2006 Issue


 

Downtown Santa Rosa has struggled for viability and survival since the shopping mall craze took over Main Street America back in the 1950s.

Unlike many mid-sized United States cities, Santa Rosa has survived—although the struggle to restore the economic power and retail superiority it enjoyed in the first half of the 20th century continues.
The vision graphically outlined here meets those requirements: It gives downtown Santa Rosa a sharp focus, a reason for existence and a cohesive communities of residents, businesses and tourists required for economic success. It combines the 19th century farm town of Santa Rosa with today’s familiar small city of the 20th century, then creates a new center that combines both eras and revitalizes Santa Rosa for the future. Downtown Santa Rosa has struggled for viability and survival since the shopping mall craze took over Main Street America back in the 1950s. Unlike many mid-sized United States cities, Santa Rosa has survived—although the struggle to restore the economic power and retail superiority it enjoyed in the first half of the 20th century continues.


The vision graphically outlined here meets those requirements: It gives downtown Santa Rosa a sharp focus, a reason for existence and a cohesive communities of residents, businesses and tourists required for economic success. It combines the 19th century farm town of Santa Rosa with today’s familiar small city of the 20th century, then creates a new center that combines both eras and revitalizes Santa Rosa for the future.

These key ingredients are vital to provide desirable downtown living space, exciting venues and events to enliven nightlife and leisure time, historic places to enhance our feeling of permanence and place, family and memory, plus the strong economic power to provide the incentives and financing required for such a vision.

 

Restoring our past

The most famous Santa Rosa citizens of the last century were Luther Burbank, Robert Ripley and Charles Schulz. Burbank’s beautiful home and gardens are tucked behind an outdated city hall, surrounded by wooden rental properties and tattoo parlors. Across the street—the blighted avenue named after our city—is the drug- and prostitute-infested Julliard Park and, incongruently, the elementary school named for Burbank. The only relic of Believe It or Not’s native son Ripley is the decaying and abandoned Church of the One Tree.

The Carrillo Adobe, our 150-year-old town’s first building, is a pile of dirt on a distant vacant lot. The town’s oldest building—Hogue House—has been dismantled and lies abused and abandoned somewhere. The city’s first wineries have vanished, just ruins scattered here and there. The old Grace Brothers Brewery exists only in aging memories. Peanuts’ creator Schulz has his own museum, but it’s out of town, on a narrow side street near rusty, abandoned railroad tracks.
Now’s the time to restore these historic monuments and bring them together near a brilliant, state-of-the-art, 2,500-seat performing arts center that’s nestled into a beautiful, pedestrian-only walkway of restaurants, shops and imaginative tourist destinations that line the banks of a restored Santa Rosa Creek. The Prince Memorial Greenway would meander into Old Railroad Square, through restored parks, past historic buildings mixed with modern homes and luxury hotels on the southern edge of downtown.

In the new vision of downtown, urban homes and apartments—both luxurious and affordable—will be scattered along the natural historic beauty of CreekWalk. Only a few hundred feet away is the expanded and relocated Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, an outdoor amphitheater, two existing movie theaters and more than a thousand public parking spaces. Old Railroad Square’s quaint shops and antique vendors—enhanced by the planned new food and wine center, a commuter rail station and the bustling farmers’ market—are only minutes away.

A relaxing stroll along a pedestrian walkway beside a wooded stream takes visitors past sidewalk cafés, coffee houses, retail and souvenir shops, a variety of restaurants, plus banks and other downtown businesses. Only one block north are the national retailers of the massive Santa Rosa Plaza. Small, 19th century trolley cars will link all this together to combine a stimulating mix of around-the-clock modern living, world-class entertainment and dining, more than 200 years of town history, a unique tourist destination and the thriving beat of the new century’s business economies—all part of the thriving downtown center of the new Santa Rosa.

This vision of downtown Santa Rosa’s future is the product of two local dreamers, Jim Johnson and Jim Henderson. Henderson, who was born and raised in Santa Rosa, is a young architect who has always dreamed of what could be. Johnson, a broadcaster who came to Santa Rosa in 1980 to create, build and operate Santa Rosa’s first television station, KFTY-TV50, is now a first-time candidate for city council who is determined to realize his 25-year-old dream of the future.

 

 

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