Concord's Main Street committee: ‘Now the fun really will begin’
Concord developer Steve Duprey speaks to the City Council during a special meeting to vote on the Main Street Advisory committee's report on a redesign of North Main Street downtown. (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
As Concord’s Main Street redesign project moves forward, members of the city’s advisory committee envision a bold new streetscape with public art, landscaping, fountains, historical displays or statues. But their report includes general ideas rather than specific designs, and four committee members told the Monitor’s editorial board yesterday that they left it open-ended on purpose.
“Now the challenge is to put it all together,” City Engineer Ed Roberge told the editorial board yesterday morning. “And while (the report) is generally vague, we’re certainly excited about it because it gives us a lot of direction; it gives us a lot of flexibility, and we’re not just limited to option A, B and C. We’re going to go A through G now and really see what . . . this downtown can be, what can we turn it into without being overly restrictive in terms of the direction.”
The committee’s report recommends a two-lane Main Street with a crossable median, wider sidewalks and parallel parking along one side or sections of Main Street as long as the loss of parking spaces between Centre and Pleasant streets is limited. The Concord City Council voted to accept the report Monday night, but is not bound by the recommendations. The city has hired CMA Engineers and consulting firm McFarland-Johnson, Inc. to work with its own engineers and planners and develop final design options for the $7.85 million project.
“The real tension that we ran into is you want to make sure that there’s enough room to do bold things on the sidewalk and have public space that creates a sense of community,” said developer Steve Duprey, the committee’s chairman. “And if you don’t consider the possibility of parallel parking, if we just rule that out right at the outset, you’re basically tying the designers’ hands.”
Duprey and committee members Rich Woodfin, Jay Surdukowski and Sue McCoo said yesterday that their lengthy debates about parking, sidewalk width, traffic flow and bicycle lanes set the stage for building an attractive streetscape.
Main Street shouldn’t look like a long, straight bowling alley, Woodfin said, and design elements would break up the space.
“Here’s a Main Street . . . that’s well-lit at night so people feel safe, there aren’t any dark shadows,” Duprey said, describing a possible vision for Main Street. “That there are some buildings that are lit up and have colored lights or whatever depending on the theme. That we have lots of colorful banners that change, so we don’t have banners that hang out there for eight months a year like we do now.”
“Maybe it’s in front of the State House plaza where there are four or five Abbot-Downing coaches for the history fans. Maybe it’s a little farther down that there are the bronze statues of everybody who’s been president who’s won the New Hampshire primary. That farther down . . . there’s the fountain area where mothers or fathers like to take their children to play. If you combine that, and then you were ever fortunate enough to get heated streets, which everybody agrees is the single most transformative piece, can you see the advertising campaign? ‘Why go to the mall and fight your way across a slippery, snowy parking lot?’ ”
Other ideas the committee members brainstormed during their meetings and highlighted yesterday morning include developing a smart phone application to guide visitors around downtown, plants, flowers, high-speed internet and uniform newspaper boxes. The city council will eventually determine which streetscape elements are affordable, but Duprey said the city could also find other grants to fund public art displays and innovative ideas.
McCoo said the committee members didn’t believe when they began meeting in September that they’d develop an open-ended report. A presentation by City Planner Gloria McPherson with photos of other cities’ streetscape details began to change their goals, she said.
“That’s when all of us decided that it was not our job to make the final decisions,” McCoo said. “Because once she showed you all of those things you were like, the possibilities . . . we didn’t need to micromanage anymore.”
The 17-member committee was appointed in September to develop recommendations for the project, for which the city received a $4.71 million grant in June.
Surdukowski said the committee’s report isn’t vague because it provides parameters for important issues like parking.
“I think what we were trying to do was create the staging for that kind of detail work,” Surdukowski said. “And I think we’ve got the staging now. Now the fun really will begin.”
The city has March 28 and June 28 deadlines to submit plans for the federal grant. Roberge said final designs will go before the city council for approval, and the process will include other opportunities for public input.
“All of our projects are kind of community-based,” Roberge said. “We don’t do anything in a vacuum anymore. Ten, 15 years ago, all the sudden you’d see a major project crop up and nobody would’ve known about it. That’s not the way we do business now.”
The advisory committee’s report asked that the committee remain in place to review design options.
“We just want them to think big on the streetscape and as the designs evolve whether its through the city council, whether its through meeting with individual stakeholder groups, whether its our committee, just run those by, because everybody’s going to have an opinion,” Duprey said.
The creativity should include a marketing campaign to encourage support for Main Street businesses during construction, Duprey said. The committee’s report asks the city to hire a local marketing firm for that purpose, which Duprey estimated would cost between $50,000 and $100,000. Construction is scheduled to begin next September and be complete by 2015. Downtown business owners have told the advisory committee that they fear shoppers won’t want to visit Main Street while it’s under construction.
“That’s what sort of keeps me awake when I think about this, that if we don’t execute that well and also improve the perception that you can park downtown, people go, ‘I don’t like to go to the mall but I’m going to go there because it’s easier right now than going downtown,’ ” Duprey said. “That’s really my only substantive fear. And I think we can handle that.”
McCoo, who owns Capitol Craftsman & Romance Jewelers on North Main Street, said business owners must remain optimistic through the construction.
“We just have to stay positive and say, ‘Okay, how can we go through a challenge?’ ” she said. “Because we know in five years we’re all going to go, ‘Well, what took us so long, why didn’t we do this?’ But we have to get from here to there.”