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Concord residents: ‘Would like to see Main Street become a vibrant destination’

Concord’s Main Street should become a vibrant destination as a result of the city’s $7.85 million streetscape project, residents agreed during a public forum last night.

But finding a parking configuration and balancing competing interests will be the most challenging parts of the project, about 140 residents reported to the Main Street advisory committee after small group discussions at the Grappone Conference Center.

The city received a $4.71 million federal grant in June to redesign 12 blocks of Concord’s Main Street. The 17-member advisory committee tasked with providing design recommendations to the Concord City Council has three more meetings scheduled before next Friday, its deadline for developing a report. Construction is scheduled to begin on Main Street next fall.

Last night’s event was hosted by the city’s Main Street advisory committee and facilitated by New Hampshire Listens, an initiative sponsored by the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute that facilitates discussions about difficult issues.

Participants were divided into groups of 15 to 20 people. Members of the Main Street advisory committee and the Concord City Council also attended the event; they listened to the groups and did not directly participate.

For two hours, facilitators from New Hampshire Listens led each group in answering one question: “What are the most important criteria the advisory committee should use to create the best Concord Main Street for everyone?”

At the end of the night, representatives from each group summarized their discussion.

“Our greatest point of agreement is that Main Street needs to be a destination, not a through-way,” said resident Maura Adams, reporting her group’s conversation to the entire room.

Several groups identified parking as a concern or an area of disagreement; some residents and business owners voiced concern about a potential loss of parking spaces, while others said wide sidewalks, bike lanes and safety are more important than parking.

The Main Street advisory committee has considered angled parking, parallel parking, back-in angled parking and, most recently, angled parking along a center island on the street. While no group had a specific suggestion about parking last night, some groups agreed the city needs designated short-term parking along Main Street, a tiered pricing system or better signs directing motorists to parking garages.

Josh Robinson told the entire room that his group discussed the need to balance the interests of pedestrians, motorists, bicyclists and business owners.

“Mitigate losses with gains . . . How many more people do you need walking by your shop in order for you to accept losing some parking spaces?” Robinson said.

The groups began last night by brainstorming aspects of the streetscape project, ranging from handicap accessibility to the appearance of light fixtures along Main Street. Participants then discussed which elements they found most important.

“Main Street has a fundamental limitation,” resident Tom Lambert told his group, because the project must fit within Main Street’s existing dimensions.

As another group discussed their competing interests, resident Brian Adams said he feared the streetscape won’t look different than it is now if city officials try to please everyone.

“I think the creativity of this entire project has been lost,” Adams said.

As they discussed the role or priorities of the project, some members of Adams’s group wondered whether they should simply ask the Main Street committee, “Why are we doing this?” But other members urged them to find a recommendation.

“It has to be somehow balanced for everybody’s interest . . . and we’re not going to have the answers in this group,” said Pam Peterson, who owns Gondwana & Divine Clothing Co. on North Main Street.

That group ultimately agreed they would like Main Street to become a welcoming community with an attractive streetscape design.

Another group, resident Carl Soderstrom reported, reached a “remarkable agreement” about its vision for the Main Street project.

“We would like to see Main Street become a vibrant destination . . . where people gather, walk, sit, shop in a safe, well-lit, accessible environment with good parking for both cars and bicycles,” Soderstrom said.

Concord developer Steve Duprey, chairman of the Main Street advisory committee, said participation in the event had exceeded expectations. Now, he told the crowd, the committee will work to fit “about 125 feet” of ideas into the 98-foot width of Main Street.

“I think that’s particularly useful for the committee members, is we know we have to balance a lot of interests,” Duprey said.

The committee, formally called the Downtown Complete Streets Improvement Project Advisory Committee, will next meet tonight at 7 in the city council’s chambers at 37 Green St.

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

Legacy Comments3

Wide sidewalks, bike lanes and safety are more important than parking? It is obvious that the focus here has shifted to what Main Street looks like as opposed to what Main Street offers retail and service wise. It is also obvious that we have not heard anything about the focus group that we want to attract to downtown, like the folks who actually live here and what their incomes are and what they need. You would expect to hear this conversation in towns like Concord MA or any other wealthy town in the country. There is a reason the folks who live here go up to Loudon Road for their services and products folks. Bigger invnetories, easy parking and prices they can afford. We just have to look at what businesses in downtown have failed and we see they all have one thing in common. They cater to an income that we do not have here and rely on tourists to spend here. A bad business plan.

With progressives in power and the "beautiful people" like those up on Nob Hill, they want bragging rights and something to be 'proud of'. The article missed that all of the "beautiful people" will have their name on a placard, etched in gold and imbedded into a granite wall. There will be juggling shows, street poets, bring your bike down for the day events, face painting with organic paint, a Birkenstock store, a Cobbler, a Baker and a Candle Stick maker. People will be walking along the Main Street and tipping their hats saying: "Hello neighbor". WAIT! What's that I hear? CHOO! CHOO! Oh my GOD, it is the new light rail system to whisk people off to Manchester, Boston and points beyond. The Van Ostern Kuster Express.............yes it is running at a deficit and yes the people of Concord are strugging to put food on the table for their children but just look at how Main Street has improve. Well, I have to leave you now, I am going to take my only two pairs of pants into the Seamstress, they are ripped again but since Wal-Mart was drummed out of Concord I have to buy the same pants I paid $30 for at Wal-Mart at Joe King's for $75. But hey, those local merchants deserve the money and since we pay for EVERYTHING at an inflated price (clothes, food, taxes, etc) I can understand that kind of mark-up. Tootle Doo....neighbor. Have a sunshiny day in beautiful downtown Concord.......WATCH OUT FOR THAT BIKE!!!!

Very amusing...how to turn a mainstreet into a destination for 7 million bucks. I say make a glass box to put them all in in the middle of mainstreet and charge people admission to watch them.

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