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Concord City Council hires PR firm to market Main Street

Concord’s Main Street has some new ambassadors.

The Concord City Council last night voted to hire a public relations firm to market Main Street once construction begins this fall. Louis Karno & Co. will earn $190,400 for 20 months of work.

“We really wanted to do this because we wanted to see it done well,” said Brett St. Clair, a partner for Louis Karno & Co.

City Councilor Keith Nyhan told St. Clair the contract seemed large, and he wanted “a comfort level that you can deliver.” St. Clair said the firm will have several employees working on the project, and they will be on call around the clock.

Councilor Liz Blanchard, who voted against the entire Main Street project last month, said last night that she supports hiring a public relations firm.

“This allays many of my fears that I’ve had with regard to the merchants and their ability to stay in business and do business during the construction period, so I feel this is essential to the construction project,” Blanchard said.

Construction will begin in September to reduce Main Street to two lanes, widen sidewalks, increase accessibility and add landscaping and public art. The city has a $4.71 million federal grant for the $10.35 million project. Deputy City Manager for Development Carlos Baia said money to pay Louis Karno & Co. will come from the city’s economic development reserve fund.

The company will work to bring visitors downtown, provide communication between business owners and the city and offer daily updates on construction.

Jayme Simoes, the company’s president, said yesterday that about 15 percent of the project’s budget will go toward advertising, some of which will be in the Monitor.

Mike Cohen, owner of Pitchfork Records on South Main Street, told the city council that the involvement of a public relations firm is crucial to the project.

“I think that the marketing program is the most important thing for our survival during this project,” Cohen said. “I honestly feel that if the (marketing) program is done correctly, then not only can downtown businesses survive, I feel as though they can thrive.”

The council approved the contract on a 13-0 vote; Councilors Jan McClure and Allen Bennett were absent.

Sewalls Falls update

City councilors last night expressed frustration over delays in replacing the Sewalls Falls Bridge, as the 1915-era structure continues to deteriorate.

“This really is a public safety issue,” said Councilor Steve Shurtleff, who has long advocated to preserve the bridge but voted with the rest of the council in February to tear it down and replace it.

When repairs began on the Sewalls Falls Bridge yesterday, it was found to be in worse condition than expected, Baia said last night. The concrete on the approaching road to the bridge is degrading, he said, and crews are trying to “isolate those areas that need more intense repair.” The bridge will be closed through at least Thursday afternoon to complete the work.

“It is very likely that we will downgrade this bridge to 3 tons only, which is basically a passenger vehicle,” Baia said. “If we were to do that, it would mean, for example, that ambulances could not travel on that bridge.”

Repairs this week are focused on the west side of the bridge across the Merrimack River. That road is elevated and supported by steel, Baia said.

Meanwhile, City Engineer Ed Roberge said he’s still trying to receive approval from the Federal Highway Administration to replace the bridge. Mayor Jim Bouley said he was “flabbergasted” to learn that construction won’t begin until at least 2015 – Roberge said he had hoped to begin in 2014, but the approval process is taking longer than expected.

Bouley added he has received phone calls from members of U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s staff, and they are willing to help the city obtain federal approval.

“And we’re talking about downgrading to 3 tons this evening?” Bouley said. “This is scary.”

Roberge said officials will continue to inspect the bridge and are prepared to close it if it becomes unsafe for cars.

“That day may come if this program continues to stretch out too far,” he said.

Underground on South Main

The Main Street redesign project could include underground utilities for part of South Main Street.

The council held a public hearing – but not a vote – on the plan last night. They’ll vote next month on bonding money from the Sears Block Tax Increment Finance District to complete the project.

It would cost $2.5 million in bonds to move utilities underground from just south of the Capital Commons building to just north of the Capitol Center for the Arts, according to a report from Assistant for Special Projects Matt Walsh.

David Fries, chairman of the Capitol Center’s board of trustees, urged the council to also move utility poles underground in front of the center’s building. One large utility pole blocks views of the front of the center, he said.

“Our conclusion is that the time is right, the time is now,” Fries said. “It will address an issue that the Capitol Center has had on its agenda for a long, long time.”

Including the Capitol Center in the underground utilities would cost an additional $1 million, Walsh estimated in his report to the mayor and city council. Baia said he will have final cost projections by next month.

Resident Roy Schweiker spoke against using the city’s money to move utility poles underground.

“Things that are important people contribute to,” he said. “And unfortunately, things that aren’t important people come to Concord and get the city council to pay.”

Stop sign removal

Two stop signs are coming down in the South End.

The council voted last night to remove stop signs on Heather Lane, where the street intersects with Gabby Lane, after Traffic Engineer Rob Mack recommended their removal in a report last month.

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)

Legacy Comments2

2.5 million for underground utilities and $190,400 for public relations? Lipstick for pigs is very expensive!

2.5 million to bury a couple of hundred yards of utility wires? Can someone explain why the price tag is so absurdly high?

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