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Editorial: Good job by Main Street committee

The 17-member committee created to advise city officials on the redesign of Concord’s Main Street proves that committees don’t have to be a place where ideas go to die. The disparate group of merchants, property owners, city officials and concerned citizens had different perspectives and competing interests. But in less than eight weeks, meeting twice a week, they found common ground and settled a plan that should revitalize a downtown that, despite investments over the years, has developed a tired look and feel. The committee’s members deserve abundant thanks.

Their recommendation calls for reducing Main Street to two wide lanes, widening sidewalks to make more room for outdoor dining, public art and landscaping, while improving safety and making downtown more accessible for people with disabilities. The sidewalks in the 12-block area will be heated, and maybe the street as well. Parking will likely be a mix of angled and parallel spaces. Although meeting safety and accessibility codes will force the loss of about 16 spaces in the core area, the committee recommended that no more than five additional parking spaces be sacrificed there. And, in fact, it’s likely that the total number of spaces in the downtown area will increase. We like the plan. It will give downtown more than a fighting chance to become a magnet for people and to thrive.

The advisory committee was on a tight timetable dictated by the terms of the $4.71 million federal grant that will fund the bulk of the $7.8 million redesign. The committee did the heavy lifting by reaching consensus on parking and a two-lane with median design. Beyond that, it outlined parameters broad enough to give the design team that will develop the look of Main Street a lot of creative latitude. Next comes the completion of a preliminary design by city staff and consulting firms. Now the fun begins, and we urge the public to weigh in.

The committee wants the design to celebrate and build on the 247-year history of downtown and take the city into the future. The design should be environmentally sound, beautiful and bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly. It should also convey excitement.

Concord developer Steve Duprey, the committee’s chairman, envisions displaying one or more Concord coaches to brand downtown and perhaps paying homage to the first-in-the-nation presidential primary with bronze statues of the winners who went on to be president. The latter idea makes us wonder, where should Richard Nixon go?

We’d like to see Concord continue the embrace of public art embodied in sculptor Dimitri Gerakaris’s tree at the entrance to Eagle Square, the beautiful eternal flame a block away by sculptor Emile Birch, and Chance Anderson’s magnificent stone works in Bicentennial Square. One suggestion: Carved boulders or sculptures by Anderson on Pleasant and Main streets should point the way to the square, one visitors easily overlook.

We urge the design team to think big. In the Fremont district of Seattle, for example, an 18-foot concrete troll crouched under a highway overpass clutches a Volkswagen Beetle in his hand. In New York City, a waterfall appears to flow out of the Brooklyn Bridge and into the river. In Denver, a 40-foot-tall blue bear cups its paws to peer into the windows of the convention center. Grants or crowd-funding could pay for public art.

We encourage the design team to think beyond antique street lights, which are fine, and take advantage of the energy efficiency of LEDs to paint with light. Whole sides of buildings could become light sculptures. Sidewalks could have ribbons of glass pavers that would light up at dark. The heated sidewalks, coupled with clever landscape design, could create micro-environments that allow flowers to bloom all year long.

Main Street’s redesign is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity. Think big. Think beauty. Think Concord, and share your ideas.

I salute the committee's work and solid recommendations and believe much good will come from them. Then about five years we can start to consider another hugely undervalued Concord asset; the Riverfront. Look at the examples of communities who have enriched their cities, their citizens, their culture, and oh yes their coffers by developing Riverfront property. The mainstream project was an important step..

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