Recent developments could allow Santa’s Workshop to return to its historic location in Courthouse Square in downtown Sonora this Christmas — or at least very close to it.
James Jensen, owner of the Jamestown-based Greenview Landscaping, said he’s offered to replace any sod at the park that gets damaged by the popular attraction on his own dime.
“When I heard it wasn’t going to be held at the park this year because it was going to damage the sod, I figured I would step up and do it,” he said in a telephone interview Monday.
The Sonora City Council heard about the offer at meeting Monday night where possible locations for the attraction were considered, including an alternative on Jackson Street next to the park.
Courthouse Square served as the home of the city’s Santa’s Workshop holiday attraction for children dating back to at least the early-1960s, but it was moved to other locations for the past two years following the completion of a $60,000 project to rehabilitate the county-owned park.
Now, the county says the city can put the attraction back in the park if it agrees to pay for replacing any sod that gets damaged as a result of the wooden structure being on the grass for multiple weeks.
City officials have estimated the cost could be about $3,500 to more than $10,000 depending on how much sod needs to get replaced.
Jensen says he made the offer because he has a personal connection to the attraction, like many others who want to see it returned to its historic location.
“I’ve got kids that go to that, and I went to it with my brothers and sisters when I was a kid,” he said.
City Administrator Tim Miller still needs to discuss the expectations and costs with Jensen before the council makes a decision on the location, which he said will likely happen at its next scheduled meeting in two weeks.
Miller said he also needed to discuss the possibility of placing the attraction on the western section of Jackson Street with Darin Grossi, executive director of the Tuolumne County Transportation Council and Transit Agency.
The agency would have to relocate its bus stop on Jackson Street to Washington Street, which would require them to block off two parking spots in front of the park and Sonora Veterans Memorial Hall and Military Museum for the weeks the attraction was up.
Richie Grant, of Sonora, informed the council about Jensen’s offer after speaking to him earlier that day and said she felt Jackson Street would be a good alternative if the park didn’t work out.
Tracy Hoyle, owner of Sonora Used Books, said she was one of the downtown merchants who wanted to see the attraction returned to the park.
Hoyle said she worked on the Jackson Street alternative with Laurie Lehmann, of the Vision Sonora Design Committee, and Nancy White, marketing director for the Sonora Chamber of Commerce, both who were at the meeting Monday.
“It’s still in the middle of town, not in the park, but visible for these people driving by,” she said after the meeting Monday night.
While speaking to the council during the meeting, Hoyle said she felt Linoberg Street was not a suitable location because it’s too close to an establishment that serves alcohol.
The attraction was placed on Linoberg Street during the 2016 holiday season, prior to the opening of the Sonora Tap Room.
Many people also have said they didn’t like the attraction being in Coffill Park last year because it wasn’t as visible from the street.
Derek Nunes, owner of PhoneSmart on South Washington Street, has helped bring public attention to the issue through posts on social media.
In June, Nunes submitted a petition to the council that was signed by more than 140 people in favor of returning the attraction to its historic location at Courthouse Square.
Nunes said he also believed that Jackson Street would be a suitable alternative location, though the ordeal has painted the county in a bad light in his eyes.
“I think it’s a good alternative if the county is going to be jerks about it,” he said.
During the meeting, Councilwoman Connie Williams remarked that she was disappointed that the county wasn’t more of a partner in the project with the city.
“I thought to myself, you know, Santa is for all of the children in Tuolumne County,” she said. “Not just for the children that live in the City of Sonora.”
Councilman Mark Plummer said everyone he’s heard people say they didn’t like the Coffill Park location and wanted it back at Courthouse Square, but he had some reservations about the city relying on private individuals to pay for replacing the sod each year.
“I’m a little uncomfortable relying on the generosity of a few individual patrons to make it work,” he said. “I think a better, more long-term option would be looking at Jackson Street.”
Mayor Jim Garaventa largely expressed the same concerns as Plummer, though he also noted that some merchants in the area could be unhappy about the loss of parking spaces due to temporarily moving the bus stop on Jackson Street.
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.