Big and small suggestions offered for Concord’s Main Street
Two months before Concord must finalize its Main Street project, the design team is working out details of the streetscape plan. Meanwhile, some business owners continue to oppose a reduction of parking spaces.
The city’s design team collected input on its latest plans for Main Street last night. But only the Concord City Council has authority to approve the project’s designs and costs; City Engineer Ed Roberge said he’ll deliver final recommendations to the council next month. Councilors must hold a public hearing and vote on the plans before the end of June.
Current designs call for: two traffic lanes with room for bicycles and a crossable center median; parallel parking along one side of the street with angled parking on the other side; and wider sidewalks with room for trees, flower beds and public art.
Other features include closing Phenix Avenue to create a pocket park, relocating the clock tower from Eagle Square to the front of Phenix Hall and installing fountains that children could run through in front of the State House. The city’s consultant team presented updated images of the plans last night.
Concord received a $4.71 million grant last year from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The federal grant program requires the city to finalize its designs in June. Construction is scheduled to start in September.
While last night’s presentation focused on detailed streetscape features, some in attendance voiced concern about the overall design.
Mark Ciborowski, whose family owns downtown buildings, urged the design team to keep angled parking in place of parallel parking and reduce the number of trees and flower beds.
“I think no matter what we end up with, we’re going to end up with a far better downtown in the end, but I still have a problem with some of the core issues,” Ciborowski said.
Ciborowski, who served on the advisory committee that developed recommendations for the project, said a loss of parking spaces could hurt Concord’s economic vitality. He also worried the city would struggle to care for landscaping along the street. He wrote a nine-page letter about the project that he sent to city officials.
Other downtown business owners echoed Ciborowski’s thoughts last night. Gerry Mark, co-owner of Caring Gifts, said “the team may have gone just a bit too far in certain areas” and created a design that will hurt business.
Laura Miller, owner of Imagination Village, said she is nervous about surviving a loss of business during construction. She worried maintenance costs will be passed onto business owners once the project is complete.
Down to details
Public input from the more than 50 people at last night’s meeting also focused on a variety of details.
Developer Steve Duprey asked that the trees’ branches begin above store signs. City Councilor Dan St. Hilaire asked if way-finding signs downtown could include internal lighting. Resident Althea Barton asked that signs direct visitors to parking garages. Gerry Little, owner of Little River Oriental Rugs, urged the city to offer public restrooms. Resident Sam Evans-Brown asked if bicyclists could test the round bike racks to ensure they are practical.
The design team is also working to address small details. Johnathan Law of the landscape architect firm Carol R. Johnson Associates showed images of where he’d place bike racks, newspaper boxes, parking kiosks and trash cans. He’s working with a lighting company to bring sample LED light fixtures to Main Street. And, in response to feedback, he has reduced the number of proposed trees.
“So we took that into consideration, we looked at re-spacing the trees,” Law said.
The design team also presented options for a pocket park on Phenix Avenue. Engineering consultant Gene McCarthy said it could be a park closed off with a wall, a three-tiered accessible pocket park with ramps or a pocket park with a ramp behind it that winds down to Low Avenue.
Jim Rosenberg, an attorney with the law firm Shaheen and Gordon on Storrs Street, praised the plan to build a ramp.
“Our concern (with building a wall) was that was going to create a collection spot for tomfoolery and other unsavory conduct,” Rosenberg said.
But he asked whether the design could become more attractive, with “a gentle ‘S’ curve” rather than a sharp ramp with railings.
Not mentioned last night were plans for a snowmelt system powered by Concord Steam. The company is still deciding whether to build a new plant in the South End.
Meanwhile, the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce is applying for a tax credit grant from the state’s Community Development Finance Authority. Tax credits would go toward 20 percent of the project – approximately $1.57 million – that must come from the private sector.
Tim Sink, president of the chamber of commerce, said the city is asking for at least $1.2 million in tax credits, which it could then sell to businesses.
Duprey said a committee working to sell tax credits has received $900,000 worth of commitments from business owners in the past three weeks. Though the city must receive the competitive grant before it can sell tax credits, the commitment is “nothing short of phenomenal,” Duprey said.
“I know our merchants are concerned, but I want to end this on a little good news,” he said.