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.