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Downtown: Above the Main Street construction, a good night’s sleep

(Illustration: Pixate Solutions for City of Concord)

(Illustration: Pixate Solutions for City of Concord)

When the garbage truck rumbles past the Endicott Hotel at 4:30 a.m., Frank Albanese wakes up.

When the snowplows come through downtown in the early hours of the morning, he hears them.

“We do live in the city,” Albanese said, and those are the sounds of a city. To live in the two-bedroom Endicott Hotel apartment he shares with his wife, to live in the center of the city of Concord, Albanese said a little bit of nighttime noise is worth it.

But if construction crews begin tearing up Main Street sidewalks and rebuilding the road while Albanese and his neighbors sleep, he said he might not be able to doze off again so easily.

Business owners have advocated for construction on the Main Street project during nighttime hours only, saying the noise and heavy machinery would turn customers away from their shops and restaurants, and the city asked for contractors who would do all the work at night during its first two requests for bids. Both attempts returned only a single offer, and each time the contractor’s estimate was nearly twice the city’s budget for construction.

That premium was one Concord couldn’t afford, so the council has given City Engineer Ed Roberge and his team the leeway to schedule work during the day to bring down the cost of the project.

In a letter to the city council, CATCH Neighborhood Housing President and CEO Rosemary Heard supported that decision to do construction work during the day instead of at night. CATCH owns and operates the Endicott Hotel, where Heard said seven of 24 apartments are still vacant. The building opened to residents in August.

“Construction is noisy, plain and simple,” she said. “And it costs sleep when that’s going on outside your window.”

While business owners have legitimate concerns about the affect daytime construction would have on their revenue, Heard said, she also wants the city to consider the residents of downtown.

“Typically, all of us expect to be able to get a reasonable night’s sleep,” Heard said. “We are of course very sympathetic to the plight of the retailers. We don’t want to lose residents from the Endicott, nor do we want to hamper our ability to lease vacant units.”

Carlos Baia, deputy city manager for development, marked off the locations of downtown apartments, the homes of Concord residents who blend in with downtown shoppers and pedestrians.

Start at the intersection of Centre and South Main streets, he said. There’s the Vegas Block on that corner, and a handful of apartments above downtown businesses such as Rowland Studio. Farther north on the road, the Endicott Hotel sits on the corner of Pleasant Street, the John F. Kennedy Building on the corner of Thompson Street. Residents of other homes and apartments just off Main Street might also be disrupted by construction work during the night, Baia said.

“The notion of doing every bit of construction at night could be problematic for those people,” he said.

John Hoyt, executive director of Concord Housing and Redevelopment, said residents of the John F. Kennedy building echoed Heard’s words.

“We’re not a business selling a product or a service, so the daytime construction does not affect us in that way,” Hoyt said. “I understand why business owners would be nervous about that.”

But there are 82 apartments in the Kennedy Building right now, he said.

“The noise could become an issue,” he said.

He wants the project – and in particular the heated sidewalks – to move forward. If downtown residents can weather the construction itself, Hoyt said he sees them benefiting from a more accessible downtown.

“It’s going to add to pedestrian safety, folks getting in and about the downtown area,” he said. “Now as you notice in front of the (Kennedy Building), it’s four lanes of traffic. We have predominantly an elderly and disabled population. It’s just inherently difficult for them to (navigate).”

Albanese, 53, walks around downtown every day. He and his wife, Lorraine, 58, joke that the Endicott Hotel is like a “nonmoving cruise ship.” Most of what they need on a day-to-day basis is within walking distance.

“We walk to church,” he said. “We walk to dinner. The co-op’s right across the street.”

The couple had their eye on an apartment in the Endicott Hotel for months, he said. They knew about the Main Street project and its upcoming construction when they moved into the building – and it was a huge selling point, not a deterrent.

The Main Street project “can’t happen fast enough,” he said. “I think it’s a really great opportunity for the city to renovate itself and become more attractive.”

While the construction could be disruptive, Albanese said he and his wife decided that noise – like the garbage truck and the snowplow – would be worth it in the end. “It’s not going to last forever,” he said.

“It’s the businesses and the residents living in harmony together, but I also think this type of home life is probably going to be more and more popular as we have an aging population,” Albanese said.

And the city is thinking not only about current residents, but also those who might move downtown, like Albanese, Baia said. One of the goals behind the redesign is to attract more residents to those upstairs apartments and buildings like the Endicott Hotel.

“This project aims to do that,” Baia said. “The wide sidewalks, the public art, the heated sidewalks if that can be done as well, those elements make (downtown Concord) much more liveable.”

The city council will have to hear public input and vote on a contractor – and the work schedule – before moving forward with the project. That will likely happen in April. Baia was optimistic, saying the outcome of construction at any time of day would bring a change for businesses and residents alike on Main Street.

“I think we’re poised for a very strong renaissance (for downtown),” Baia said.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)

Both nighttime construction bids were twice the city's budget for this project. Is daytime construction expected to save enough in labor to bring this project into feasibility? Seems unlikely.

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