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Downtown: Council to make decisions about Main Street, snow-melt system

When the city council takes up the Main Street project again tonight, one of the larger items it could nix from the plan is a downtown snow-melt system.

City staff will present options for moving forward on the downtown redesign tonight, the first regular meeting of the council after last month’s poor response to the city’s request for construction bids.

“There will be enough information” for the council to make decisions about the project tonight, City Manager Tom Aspell said.

Heated sidewalks have been uncertain from the beginning of the Main Street project because they hinge on Concord Steam. The company announced in December that it couldn’t afford to build the South End plant that would have sent hot water to pipes under Main Street. But it has been planning to rebuild its aging facility on the New

Hampshire Hospital campus, a remodel President Peter Bloomfield said could still work for the snow-melt system.

“It’s still a viable option,” Bloomfield said.

Aspell was not as confident.

“Right now, we have seen no indication that they are able to construct a (snow-melt) system,” Aspell said last week.

So the city has been looking into building and operating that snow-melt system itself, he said.

“A system like that isn’t installed in New Hampshire often,” Aspell said. “If Concord Steam isn’t able to provide the hot water to the site, which they said they can’t do, do we put in an alternative system (ourselves)?”

When the city reissued its request for Main Street bids at the end of last year, only one contractor responded. The $13.83 million proposal from Concord-based E.D. Swett Inc. was much higher than the city’s $7.1 million estimate. And that offer didn’t include the cost of building the snow-melt system, which would tack more than $900,000 onto the bill just to heat the sidewalks in the heart of downtown.

If the city decided to maintain the system itself instead of working with Concord Steam, Aspell said the operating costs to the city amount to long-term expenses much greater than that $900,000 price tag.

Bloomfield said one of the options for Concord Steam would be to use the existing network of pipes under Main Street to build a snow-melt system – but they would have to go into the basement of each downtown building and install equipment on each individual system. He could not estimate what that cost would be.

“The city has to decide how it’s going to happen,” Bloomfield said.

Either way, the snow-melt system will not be exactly what the city originally planned. Whether it will be at all is up for debate tonight.

“It isn’t what they envisioned when Concord Steam (got involved),” Aspell said.

The Concord City Council will meet at 7 p.m. in council chambers.

Storrs Street parking permits

Also at tonight’s city council meeting is a proposed change for downtown parking. The council will decide whether to sell permits to park on part of Storrs Street and in an adjacent parking lot owned by the city.

If the council approves the change, Aspell said downtown merchants and employees could buy permits to park along Storrs Street during the day.

The new spaces would free up other Main Street spaces for customers and offer reserved spots for those who work downtown.

“It would be a great opportunity for folks for long-term parking,” Aspell said.

The permits would allow parking in a 25-space municipal lot on the north end of the street, under the Centre Street overpass. That lot is free but not often used, Aspell said. Approximately 60 on-street spaces would also open on Storrs Street, south of Theatre Street.

In a report to the city council, Matt Walsh, director of redevelopment, downtown services and special projects, recommended charging $100 for a three-month permit. That rate is more than a 75 percent discount for someone who pays for downtown parking at a regular rate.

The spots would also help replace spots lost if construction begins on the Main Street project, Walsh wrote, and they would mitigate the loss of 90 long-term metered parking spaces in the Capital Commons Parking Garage, which were recently assigned to the new Love building on South Main Street.

If all the permits are sold, Walsh estimated the change would add $34,000 to the city’s revenue. It’s already received a stamp of approval from the city parking committee, Intown Concord and the Downtown Concord Merchants Roundtable.

But in an email to the council, Gibson’s Bookstore owner Michael Herrmann argued against the change that would require downtown employees or businesses to pay for spots they can currently use for free.

“These employees are often part-time and not highly compensated, so having free spaces within walking distance but far enough away to avoid disrupting commerce was a win-win for all concerned,” he wrote.

These spots are “much-needed” free parking, Herrmann wrote.

“Parking has been a hot-button issue for the downtown as long as I can remember. . . . But I urge you to restore and maintain these spaces as free spaces,” he wrote.

Love in the downtown air

A group of downtown businesses is trying to attract shoppers and lovebirds to Main Street on Valentine’s Day.

Nicole Vera, owner of New To You Concord, said some downtown shops and restaurants will offer extra hours and discounts during the Lovin’ Downtown Stroll this Friday. The event is the perfect place for a Valentine’s Day date – or the right time to do some shopping “if you haven’t gotten a Valentine’s gift for your sweetheart,” she said.

“It’s a romantic place to spend Valentine’s Day,” Vera said.

New To You will offer door prizes, refreshments and discounts on all winter merchandise, Vera said.

Also part of the Lovin’ Downtown Stroll:

∎ Gibson’s Bookstore will offer 10 percent off any book with hearts on the cover, or any book that a customer can argue is about love.

∎ OutFITters Thrift Store will have a raffle and will give away a free pair of gloves, hat or scarf to anyone who makes a purchase Friday or Saturday.

∎ Puppy Love Hot Dogs will be open late this weekend, serving until 6 p.m. Friday and 5 p.m. Saturday. For meat lovers, they’ll serve up fresh bacon on the hot dogs.

∎ Bead It! will offer a 15 percent discount.

Free classes from NEC

New England College will offer a series of classes about business, psychology and education at its downtown Concord location, which opened at 62 N. Main St. in October.

And they’re free.

“The purpose of our new location in Concord is to be an active and educational resource for the community,” said Larry Taylor, program director of NEC Concord, in a press release.

On the first Thursday of each month, the “Topics in Business” series will begin at 6 p.m. Presentations will include “Risk versus Return & The Power of Asset Allocation” on March 6 and “Should I Prepare My Own Tax Return” on April 3.

Also open to the public is the “Topics in Psychology” series on the fourth Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m. On Feb. 26, NEC will host a class called “Through the Eyes of a Child;” on April 23, “Jungian Crime Scene Analysis.”

And on April 10, the education series will kick off at 6 p.m. with a presentation on teacher evaluation in New Hampshire called “Ideas for Goal-Setting.” Also upcoming will be a discussion on the Common Core education standards and a class on teaching students who are not native English speakers.

For more information, call the Concord office of NEC at 715-2306.

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

Asspell claims if city does not take the money for Loudon Road, then other roads will not be fixed. The next question from the reporter should have been to ask what source is the additional $6 million needed for the the Main Street project coming from? This is Concord's version of the big dig, Main Street and London road will get the money, but I won't be able to drive down pleasant street without stopping for an alignment.

If nobody parks in the lot when it's free, why on earth do you think anybody would pay $100 to park there?

Lovin' Downtown Stroll, you can't make this stuff up. I'll bet Concord police will have to add extra details to handle the crowd.

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