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Downtown: On Main Street project, PR firm hired by city waits for ‘the green light’

In January, city staff and the public relations team from Louis Karno & Co. discussed the roll out of the Main Street project weekly.

Brett St. Clair, a partner at Louis Karno, was days away from installing webcams around Main Street for a video feed from construction.

Another full-time employee joined the firm to help market the downtown redesign.

“We were like a plane leaving the runway,” St. Clair said.

Then, they had to hit the brakes.

Last July, the city council voted to hire Louis Karno for a fee of $190,400 for 20 months of marketing and communications work during the project. But with Main Street project in limbo, so are Concord’s payments to the PR firm. And before St. Clair can hit send on the first “Daily Dig” newsletter, the city council will need another vote on whether the project goes forward at all.

“We’re just kind of trying to ride out this turbulence,” St. Clair said.

In its original form, the Main Street project would redesign and rebuild 12 blocks of the downtown corridor. The city had planned for a total cost of $10.35 million, and a $4.71 million federal grant would help cover part of the bill. Concord twice tried to find a contractor, and each time received only one offer at nearly double the budget for construction. City staff has been trying a third time to find a contractor over the last several months, negotiating behind closed doors as part of an alternative bidding process.

On Wednesday, Deputy City Manager for Development Carlos Baia said he plans to bring the chosen contractor and a new proposal to the council within two weeks.

“Construction will start when it starts, and (Louis Karno will) be there ready to go,” Baia said.

Concord stopped its regular payments to Louis Karno in March, Baia said, and their fee won’t change because of the project’s delays.

“We stopped payment right now temporarily just because there hasn’t been a lot of work for them to do,” Baia said.

In a memo dated March 28, St. Clair pledged the firm’s support for the project.

“While the project has suffered delays which we could not have anticipated last July, we stand by our promise 100 percent,” St. Clair wrote. “We’re in this to the end.”

Last week, St. Clair said the firm has been doing some work on the project, like posting updates on the project website at concordmainstreetproject.com and on the “Concord Main Street Project” Facebook page. Recent updates on that page included several news articles about Concord, an ad for a poetry slam at New England College’s Concord campus and photos of several Main Street storefronts.

“We’re still helping when they need it,” St. Clair said. “It hasn’t been much work in the past couple months, but we’re just not billing it.”

Construction was supposed to start last fall, then this spring. A copy of Louis Karno’s contract with the city marks completion time as March 2015, but the work would take about two summer once it starts.

“It is, quite frankly, going to cost our firm some money,” St. Clair said. “There’s no question about that.”

St. Clair called the fee levied by Louis Karno “modest” for this project.

“This is a matter of pride,” he said. “It’s not about the money. We need enough money so we can pay people. . . . We’re not going to make any money on this.”

The team would work to attract visitors to downtown, provide daily updates on construction and act as a channel for communication between downtown merchants and the city. It would be on call around the clock.

Their key message, according to a memo to the city council last summer, would be simple: “Concord’s Main Street is open for business.”

“How we get the word out, that’s basically what we’re counting on them for,” Baia said.

While St. Clair waits for the day he can post a celebratory status update on the project’s Facebook page, Mayor Jim Bouley isn’t there yet. The city council hasn’t seen the newest version of the project, he said, much less signed off on it.

“Before I can say we’re going anywhere or going forward with anything, we need to hear from the administration with . . . the plan with the contractor,” he said.

Then, the council will vote whether to do the project at all.

“It’s going to be important to hear from the community as to what they feel about the project,” Bouley said.

Until then, the brakes are still on.

“We’re just waiting for the decision, the green light,” St. Clair said.

Midsummer Night Magic

Mosaics and music, a parade and a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

All will be part of the third annual Midsummer Night Magic on Friday night.

“It’s a great way to kick off the summer,” said event organizer Jessica Fogg.

The event will begin around 4 p.m. in front of the State House, where visitors can listen to music and help create the “Mosaic 250” that will be presented to the city in celebration of its 250th anniversary next year. The “Creative Concord Caravan” parade will start from the plaza in front of the State House around 6:15 p.m. and end at Bicentennial Square, where more music groups will perform in the evening.

In Eagle Square, the Community Players of Concord will perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream, followed by an outdoor screening of The NeverEnding Story hosted by Red River Theatres.

“The whole community comes out and comes together and gets to enjoy this fun event in Concord,” Fogg said. “It highlights all the great things about Concord from our downtown to the arts organizations and the sense of community Concord seems to have.”

The event is free, and many downtown merchants will stay open late with discounts.

An evening with Leonard Bernstein

The New Hampshire Master Chorale and Red River Theatres are teaming up Saturday night to celebrate composer Leonard Bernstein – in a parking garage.

“It’s kind of a funny story,” said Dan Perkins, music director at the chorale, that begins as a group of musicians from the chorale were walking to their cars in the Capital Commons parking garage after a rehearsal one night.

“We were being silly, and we sang a few notes,” he said.

They realized the garage’s acoustics, he said, were outstanding. So this Saturday night, the chorale will perform “Bernstein’s Mass” on the fourth floor of the garage, to be followed by an outdoor screening of Bernstein’s West Side Story hosted by Red River.

“He really questioned the establishment, and he was a bit of a rebel. . . . When the venue came into sight, it seemed perfect,” Perkins said of Bernstein.

(Perkins does have permission from the city to perform in the garage.)

Angie Lane, events and marketing manager at Red River, said the movie theater was immediately on board with Perkin’s idea.

“If you love the arts, this is a great way to spend the first day of summer,” Lane said.

The concert will begin at 7 p.m. on the fourth floor of the garage, and the movie will begin at 9 p.m. Tickets for the entire evening are $35 general admission, with discounts for seniors and students. Admission to the concert only is $30; for the movie only, $15. For more information, visit nhmasterchorale.weebly.com or redrivertheatres.org.

Tickets will also be sold Saturday night at the parking garage, which is located next to Red River at 11 S. Main St. The garage entrance is located on Storrs Street; guests can also enter on foot from South Main Street.

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

St Clair/Karno "...were like a plane leaving the runway", eh? Where's a hijacker when you REALLY need one? This entire debacle should be scrapped. Wipe the slate clean and start over. The focus needs to be on Concord's strengths, which is steeply rooted in her rich history. The challenge there is to get something done before Steve Duprey knocks it all down. Good luck.

$200K for PR? Can this project get any more distasteful?

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