Concord Main Street gets green light
The Concord City Council approved the Main Street project last night, and construction will begin this fall.
Most of the votes on the table passed 14-1 with dissent only from Ward 2 Councilor Allan Herschlag. The proposal approved will rebuild and redesign nine blocks of Main Street for $10.69 million.
From Centre Street to Concord Street, the construction will widen the sidewalks along Main Street and condense traffic to two lanes. It will make the entrances to 18 businesses handicap accessible and remove the double-step curb on the west side of the street.
After the meeting, Mayor Jim Bouley said the upcoming months of construction will be a time to rally around downtown.
“This is a time when the community needs to come together to support one another,” he said. “It’s important to support our merchants. It’s important to shop downtown, to eat downtown.”
The total bill will be covered by a $4.71 million federal grant, $560,000 in federal tax credits, more than $500,000 from impact fees and the water fund, $2.5 million previously dedicated to paying for buried utility lines and almost $2.9 million in city bonds. About $470,000 of those bonds were added to the project last night, when the council decided to include money for colored tree lighting and a consultant to design that lighting scheme.
Next, city staff will finalize the contract with Severino Trucking Inc. Construction will begin this fall on utilities and improvements to Eagle Square, while the council will make decisions at a later meeting about which specific parts of Main Street will be under construction in 2015 and 2016. The project is scheduled for completion in 2016.
While most councilors voted against a measure to move the clock tower away from Eagle Square, only Herschlag voted against the rest of the project. He read a prepared statement to the council before his vote.
“While I’m willing to spend your money and my money on a Main Street project, I’m not willing to spend our money on a project that only gets it half right,” Herschlag said. “I want a project that gets it from Day One, and I want a project that gets it right the first time. I don’t think we’re there yet.”
Ward 6 Councilor Allen Bennett responded to Herschlag’s statements.
“I think we’ve had numerous public hearings, I think we’ve had numerous meetings,” he said. “I think we’ve discussed this for the last two years. It’s now time to make a decision.”
Last night’s meeting was a continuation of a July 14 meeting, when the council postponed its votes on the project. At that meeting, 22 people spoke before the council; only four opposed the project outright. Many supported the project but asked for changes to its details.
At last night’s meeting, only three of 15 people spoke directly against the project. Some of the 12 who spoke in favor of the project also asked for changes to the design or the construction schedule. Public comment ranged across specific line items, like a consultant for tree lighting, to larger questions about economic development in downtown.
Susanne Smith-Meyer, a resident of East Concord and a member of the Concord Planning Board, spoke against the tree lighting. She asked the council to refocus on the project’s goals for a more accessible downtown.
“We’re not Las Vegas, we’re not Disney,” she said. “Many people go downtown right now, and I don’t think we should spend the money or even encourage the . . . lights. The wow factor to me is not as important.”
Others, like Chamber of Commerce President Tim Sink, spoke in favor of the lighting – and the extra flash.
“I really do believe that this will provide a wow factor that has the potential to set Concord aside from literally any other city in New Hampshire,” Sink said.
Several councilors voiced their agreement. More details about the lighting plan will eventually come back to council for final approval.
“I think this is a great opportunity to have a consultant tell us what looks best for Concord,” Ward 10 Councilor Dan St. Hilaire said.
Downtown building owner Remi Hinxhia spoke up for five parking spaces outside his two properties on North Main Street, and the council asked for city staff to look for ways to save some of those spots. Other details, such as snow-melt systems paid for by individual business owners, will also be hammered out as the project gets rolling.
Another Concord woman argued against the lighting for the trees. But when a councilor asked her whether she supported the project overall, she shrugged off the question.
“I think that’s a moot point right now, because it seems like the project is going forward,” she said.
“I can assure you it is not a moot point because we have not taken a vote,” Bouley said.
“Really?” she asked.
“Really,” he replied.
“Oh, don’t get me started,” she said, returning to her seat to applause from the crowd.
The council will meet next Aug. 11 at 7 p.m. in council chambers.
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)