On Concord’s Main Street, business owners are ‘nervous’
North Main Street, Concord during Market Days; Thursday, July 19, 2012. (Alexander Cohn/ Monitor file)
On Friday afternoon, Sue McCoo marched out of the Viking House, across the street and through the door of Little River Oriental Rugs.
In the back room, owner Gerry Carrier was crafting an email to gather the Merchants’ Roundtable for a meeting.
He gave her the run-down.
“There’s no heated sidewalks,” Carrier said. But there’s a four-person maintenance team that would be dedicated to the downtown area, he added.
“I’m more concerned now about the construction schedule,” he said.
They were talking about the newest proposal for the Main Street project – a $10.22 million plan that would widen downtown sidewalks and make 18 storefronts accessible to those with disabilities. But the redesign would be nine blocks long instead of 12, and it wouldn’t include a snow-melt system or a schedule of nighttime construction as many local merchants had wanted.
City staff will present the proposal’s details to the Concord City Council tonight at a public meeting. Comments from the audience aren’t on the agenda until the councilors vote on the project next month, but downtown business owners such as Carrier want to know more about the construction that would tear up and rebuild the ground outside their storefronts.
“I’ve got a million questions” for City Engineer Ed Roberge, Carrier said.
The 13-page proposal emerged Thursday from closed negotiations with contractor Severino Trucking, consultant engineering firm McFarland Johnson and the Federal Highway Administration. McCoo, who owns both the Viking House and Capitol Craftsman and Romance Jewelers, sat on the city’s 17-member Main Street advisory committee in fall 2012.
“I went from totally believing . . .” she trailed off, before speaking again.
“When it goes on behind closed doors, you get really nervous,” she said.
McCoo said she’s worried she would have to close her shops and put more than 20 employees out of work. But she’s not ready to give up on the project she helped craft.
“What I really hope is all of us in three years say, ‘Why did we wait so long?’ ” McCoo said.
Others, like state Sen. Andy Sanborn, would prefer not to see the project happen at all. Sanborn owns The Draft at 67 S. Main St., and the sports bar sits on one of the blocks that would be cut from the project’s original program to save money.
While the Draft wouldn’t be inside the project’s scope anymore, Sanborn also owns the building at 45 S. Main St. that used to house Gibson’s Bookstore. That shop is currently empty.
“Who wants to open a business knowing that Main Street is going to be torn up for a year or two?” he said.
He anticipated financial trouble for other businesses along the length of the project.
“I have continued concerns about the potential damage it’s going to do to the businesses on Main Street with a long, drawn-out construction project, which beyond any question will drive shoppers away from downtown,” Sanborn said.
Developer Steve Duprey chaired the advisory committee. In November 2012, the committee presented its own recommendations to the city council based on hours of public input on the Main Street project. Some of those recommendations, such as creating a more pedestrian-friendly downtown and using federal tax credits to help pay for the project, have been preserved. Others, such as building a snow-melt system and completing most construction at night, have not.
While that give-and-take took place out of sight, Duprey said he felt the city first tried a more public route to hiring a contractor “in very good faith.”
“I think it was a very innovative approach between the city, state and federal government to try this negotiated process,” he said. “It seems to have worked. I don’t begrudge them at all. I don’t think you can do line-by-line negotiations on these projects in public.”
Duprey said he still has questions, like how the city will upgrade its signage in the downtown area to direct visitors to parking and educate visitors about Concord.
While Duprey agreed $2.5 million to bury utility lines on South Main Street was “an outrageously expensive price tag,” he said leaving the lines above ground could deter future development. City staff has recommended the money earmarked for that work be used instead for general construction on the project.
“I would not have any interest in redeveloping the Employment Security site without those utilities underground, and I think it will make it more difficult to find a developer who will want to redevelop that site,” he said.
But he said he still feels the project could make for a new Main Street.
“The advisory committee was of the mind that the project was worth doing if it was truly transformative, and I think hopefully that’s what we learn more about Monday night,” Duprey said last week. “I think the city staff believes they’ve been successful in maintaining most of those elements.”
Tonight’s meeting begins at 7 in council chambers. To read the full proposal, visit concordmainstreetproject.com.
Calling all volunteers
Intown Concord is still in need of about 20 more volunteers to help with kids’ attractions, the mini-golf course, the beer and hospitality tent, entertainment venues, and general assistance at this year’s Market Days.
The festival is scheduled for July 17-19.
If you would like to be a volunteer, contact events and communications coordinator Susan Sokul at email@example.com.
“The more people we have involved, the more fun it will be for everyone,” Sokul wrote in a press release.
For information, visit intownconcord.org.
Happy Independence Day
City offices and the library will be closed Friday for Independence Day.
There will also be no trash collection Friday. Pickup is scheduled for Saturday, and trash and recycling should be curbside by 7 a.m.
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)