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Concord announces new plan for Main Street makeover

North Main Street, Concord during Market Days; Thursday, July 19, 2012.

(Alexander Cohn/ Monitor file)

North Main Street, Concord during Market Days; Thursday, July 19, 2012. (Alexander Cohn/ Monitor file)

Concord has announced a contractor and a $10.22 million proposal for construction on the Main Street project.

The city’s latest plan preserves many of the project’s hallmarks, such as wider sidewalks and accessible entrances for downtown businesses, but it also cuts heated sidewalks and three of 12 blocks from the original program.

City staff outlined the proposal’s details yesterday; the Concord City Council can still make changes and will vote on it next month. The selected contractor is Severino Trucking Co. Inc. of Candia.

“What was important was to preserve as much of this project as possible at its highest quality,” City Engineer Ed Roberge said. “This will clearly be a transformative project in many ways.”

In its original form, the Main Street project would redesign and rebuild 12 blocks of the downtown corridor. The city had projected the total bill would be $10.35 million, which included about $7.8 million for general construction and $2.5 million to bury utilities on South Main Street. A $4.71 million federal grant would cover part of the cost. Officials had hoped to break ground last fall, but in each of two previous attempts to hire a contractor, Concord rejected a proposal that was almost double the budget for construction.

A 17-member committee shaped the downtown project with input from community members and merchants. But in February, the city council gave staff and consultant engineering firm McFarland Johnson permission to use an alternative bidding process that allows for more negotiation – and all of that negotiation took place behind closed doors.

The proposal that emerged yesterday sets a $10.22 million budget for construction. That includes the $4.71 million federal grant, $560,000 in federal tax credits, more than $500,000 from impact fees and the water fund, and $2.39 million in city bonds. City staff has also recommended using the $2.5 million previously dedicated to burying utilities on South Main Street for general construction instead.

Because all of those dollars have already been set aside, Deputy City Manager for Development Carlos Baia said the city would not need to bond any more money to pay for this project. This proposal “makes sense for Concord,” he said.

“It accomplishes most of the original intention, if not all of the original intention, of the design that was proposed,” Baia said.

The 13-page document that will go to the city council is familiar. Main Street would become two lanes with a cobblestone median, and the sidewalks would be widened to an average of 18 feet. Eighteen downtown storefronts would become accessible to those in wheelchairs or with limited mobility, and the new street wouldn’t have the tricky double-step curb that exists today. One side of Main Street would remain angled parking; the other would be converted to parallel parking. Visitors to Main Street would find public art, irrigated tree planters and more seating. Some small details, like banners across the street to welcome guests to Concord, are new to the design.

But other pieces of the original plans are missing from this proposal:

∎ Heated sidewalks. City staff did not recommend building a snow-melt system on Main Street, although the proposal does include two options to do so if the city council wants to.

∎ Buried utility lines on about 750 feet of South Main Street. City staff have suggested the $2.5 million already earmarked from the Sears Block Tax Increment Finance district be repurposed to help pay for the larger project. “Everybody, I think, struggled with the fact that it was a sizeable amount of money for a very small linear foot distance,” Baia said.

∎ Three blocks of the original design. The first plan for Main Street would have revamped the streetscape between its northern and southern intersections with Storrs Street. That’s about 12 blocks. But city staff shaved about $1.9 million off the project by shortening the project. Their suggested scope runs about nine blocks of Main Street, between Centre and Concord streets.

The three blocks that wouldn’t be included aren’t in the same zoning district as the heart of downtown, Baia said.

“It was, of course, not without pause,” Baia said. “We obviously would like to do everything that we had planned and that the committee had envisioned, but in terms of cuts, that was one that had some good foundation.”

∎ A new home for the clock tower. Moving that tower away from Eagle Square would have cost about $180,000, so city staff are recommending it stay put.

∎ Some aesthetic details, such as ornamental fences and electrical outlets at the tree planters. The city would also substitute the planned trash compactors with regular trash and recycling bins.

∎ More money from local matches. The original plan called for about $1.57 million in contributions from the private sector. Last year, the Community Development Finance Authority awarded Concord $560,000 in tax credits that would go toward that balance. But Baia said city staff decided to absorb the remainder in the city’s bonds.

Ramping up

If the council approves this new proposal, the project would change not only in its appearance, but also in its execution.

The selected contractor, Severino Trucking, would complete most of the work between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., and only major utility work and paving would be done at night. In a report to the city council in November 2012, the city’s advisory committee on the Main Street project recommended the work be done primarily at night so as not to disrupt downtown business.

But overnight construction was one of the main reasons the bid prices came in at nearly double the city’s estimates, and that was a premium Concord couldn’t afford. So Severino Trucking has promised to usher pedestrians to storefronts with a system of crosswalks and ramps in the work area.

“We’re trying to mitigate any inconvenience that might be made for the project,” Baia said.

Construction would begin in the South End and move north, and the project would be done by fall 2016. Crews would work on one side of the road at a time; the other lane would be alternating one-way traffic.

Roberge said the sidewalks would be completed first. On-street parallel parking would be available between the traffic lane and the work zone, he said, and all parking in areas under construction would be free.

“We can probably maintain between 75 and 90 percent of the existing parking count in those work areas,” Roberge said.

And if the council gives a green light, Severino Trucking would start this summer.

“We’d like to get started as soon as possible,” Roberge said.

‘Red carpet team’

The last page of the 13-page proposal lists two options for building a snow-melt system. City staff recommends neither.

The hope for heated sidewalks hinged on Concord Steam, which wanted to build a new plant in the South End. Excess from that plant would have moved into pipes under Main Street, and the heat would have melted the snow from the sidewalks. But Concord Steam’s plant fell through, and in February, the council asked city staff to come up with options for Concord to build and power the system without that company.

“We looked at a number of different things – geothermal, a wastewater-oriented system, the gas system, the steam system,” Baia said. “The important thing to remember is that originally when we talked about snow-melt, it was because we were going to use free excess steam from a private facility that was going to be built. It was going to benefit them. It was going to benefit us. It wasn’t going to cost us except to put the tubing in.”

Concord doesn’t have enough wastewater flow to power the system as needed, Baia said, and a geothermal system would require drilling about 500 wells throughout Main Street. So city staff nixed both ideas.

In the proposal, one option is a natural gas system, which would require building a furnace in addition to laying pipes underneath the city’s sidewalks. That system would cost about $4.5 million to build; each year, it would cost about $1.1 million to operate and maintain.

The second option is a steam system, which would also require building an operating facility at a cost of about $4 million. Depending on the price of steam, it would cost between $1.5 million and $2.5 million each year to operate and maintain.

Instead, Baia outlined his recommendation for what he called a “red-carpet team.” The city would hire four new full-time employees and dedicate them to maintenance in the downtown core.

“Their purpose would be to serve not only as a maintenance crew, but also as ambassadors to the downtown,” Baia said. “So they would do the street sweeping, landscape maintenance, any other maintenance of the infrastructure downtown, answer questions from anybody that may be visiting downtown. During the snow season . . . their sole function would be to get the snow out of the downtown area, out of the sidewalks.”

Salaries and benefits for those employees would cost $272,000 per year, and that money would come out of the general fund. The new team would also need new equipment, which would cost about $30,000 in debt payments every year, and about $10,000 a year of sand and salt.

As with all the rest of the project details, City Manager Tom Aspell said the council makes the final call on the snow-melt system. But it will also have to decide how to pay for it.

“They’ll have to figure out who is going to foot that bill going forward,” Aspell said.

City staff will present the proposal to the city council during a special meeting Monday at 7 p.m. in council chambers. That meeting is open to the public, and the 13-page document is available online at concordmainstreetproject.com. The council will hear public comment on the project and vote at its next regular meeting July 14.

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

(Due to incorrect information in the city’s Main Street proposal, an earlier version of this story stated the wrong amount of dollars bonded from the general fund to help pay for the project.)

Legacy Comments12

From the get go this project has been a sham. Now let's see, still planning and it's in what rendition number? How much money has been spent so far for nothing at all? It is incredible to watch this all unfold, the incompetence of those who make these decisions. Can things get any more illogical? Is there a clear plan for this very questionable project or not? I am left thinking that the stance of the city is that they are determined to have some sort of project going on along Main Street, but the details really don't matter as long as there is one. Let's spend the money because we'll lose it if we don't.

When I am driving down Main St in 3 years and a UPS truck stops to make a delivery, what am I supposed to do? Wait? Drive over the cobblestone? This project is admirable, but doesn't seem practical nor well-thought-through. I was recently stuck in traffic there for a very long time when 2 delivery trucks were blocking traffic. ... Please advise. I wanna be supportive.

Curtis, Wuddya think the wide sidewalks are for...people?!

Curtis, By the time this project is completed, drones will have replaced delivery trucks. Problem solved.

I am so glad that I don't live in Concord. They were so sure that they could get it done by someone for $4.71M but they were wrong so now they are going for the whole enchilada. Typical kind of progressive thinking. The lipstick on a pig analogy applies here when it comes to the thinking that this will do anything to draw people downtown.

Ace Trucking Company would've done it for less, but the city council wouldn't stop calling them "Johnson".

Flash forward about fifteen years and they'll be spending a lot of money undoing about 80% of this ill-fated project. The problem is they have a Federal grant. And it is an article of faith that you cannot return Federal money. I don't know if it's still true but it used to be if you returned 20 dollars of 100 the Feds gave you, the next year you only got $80. It was a misguided attempt to save money that actually led to foolish spending at the end of the year to use up the money and a mindset that makes returning unused money verboten. This project is going through no matter what the citizens of Concord want or think or how loudly they howl.

and where does federal money come from? They steal it from you and me!

You can play all the word games you want, but taxation is not stealing. If you can figure out how to have a country in the 21st century without a military, roads, law enforcement, emergency assistance, clean water, safe food, education and all the other things you anti tax people take for granted let someone know.

You are correct, tillie, those are things that we all should share in for the need of economy, safety, etc. However, it is the constant taking of more and more and more money for pet programs or increasing public servants (get that "servants") salaries or adding more layers of bureaucracy. Unfortunately, often the delivery of services is overshadowed by the cost of administering services. That is why conservatives want to slow down taxation. Can any progressive understand that if the money paid the actual services without burdensome bureaucratic red tape would not be objected to?

The red carpet team.....seriously....

So in reality....the cost of the initial project as proposed would be what..? $18 million?? More?? Crazy..

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