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Downtown: Taking steps to an accessible Main Street

When Concord’s new Main Street is complete next year, it will have more handicapped parking spaces, and it won’t have an inaccessible, double-step curb.

It’s unclear, though, how many building entrances on Main Street could become more accessible as a result of the project.

Between Centre Street and Hills Avenue, there are more than 15 storefronts that require one or two steps to enter directly from the Main Street sidewalk.

City Engineer Ed Roberge said the design team is beginning to meet with downtown property owners about the project. In some cases, re-grading and widening the sidewalks may help the city eliminate steps.

“It’s hard to say that we would be able to address every storefront,” he said. “We’re certainly looking at every storefront, at every entrance point.”

Meanwhile, the Disabilities Rights Center has sent letters to property owners with inaccessible storefronts. Richard Cohen, the center’s executive director, said he counted 20 inaccessible storefronts in the Main Street project area.

“Our pitch has been . . . while they’re doing this (Main Street) project, it makes an awful lot of sense to work with the owners to make the storefronts accessible rather than having to do it one by one and doing it piecemeal,” he said.

Building renovations can trigger legal requirements for accessibility improvements. But Cohen maintains that property owners are already required, whenever it’s “readily achievable,” to eliminate inaccessible entrances.

The Disabilities Rights Center is part of a lawsuit demanding accessibility into Phenix Hall on North Main Street. On behalf of three wheelchair users, it sued property owner Mark Ciborowski and his tenants, The Works Bakery Cafe and the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. The League of New Hampshire Craftsman settled last year, but Ciborowski and The Works Bakery Cafe are still fighting the lawsuit.

Last week, a federal judge ruled that renovations Ciborowski made to the building in 2010 are subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act. The court must now decide whether he met his obligation to make the building as accessible as

possible while maintaining its historic nature.

Reached last week, Ciborowski declined to comment about the lawsuit and the Main Street project.

The $4.71 million federal grant the city received for Main Street requires the project to improve safety and accessibility. Work also must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

But, like Phenix Hall, many Main Street buildings have historic features. Roberge said the city must document them. Federal law does not exempt historic buildings from ADA compliance, but does require that the historic integrity of the building be maintained.

The solution isn’t always as simple as grading the sidewalk into a ramp, Roberge said. In many cases, property owners would have to alter their building in collaboration with the sidewalk re-grading.

“Again, we’re trying to do everything that we can to make it as accessible as possible,” Roberge said. “Are there challenges? Yeah, there are some great challenges out there.”

And not every building with steps from Main Street is entirely inaccessible to handicapped visitors.

There’s one step between the sidewalk and the door to Bread and Chocolate on South Main Street. But property owner Michael Herrmann said an indoor ramp between the bakery and the adjoining Gibson’s Bookstore allows customers to access the store.

Herrmann said he’d love to hear that the Main Street project could eliminate the step, but the structure of his building would make interior changes difficult.

“The devil’s in the details, but obviously we’re always in favor of more accessibility,” he said.

As the Main Street construction nears, Tom Saktanaset is preparing to relocate his Siam Orchid restaurant to a North Main Street storefront with two steps. He worked with the city on plans to make a lower-level dining room that’s accessible through a back entrance for handicapped customers.

Saktanaset said last week that he’s moving forward with those plans, regardless of whether the Main Street project could alter his entrance.

The former New Hampshire Savings Bank building at 95-97 N. Main St. has one step from the sidewalk into Bravo Boutique.

“If the city’s making the rounds, we’re perfectly willing to discuss options with them,” said John Ransmeier, an attorney for the firm Ransmeier & Spellman and a partner with Capitol Street Associates, which owns the building.

But, Ransmeier added, “it might not be that easy a problem to solve.”

As engineers continue to work, Roberge said one thing is certain: “Were confident that we’re not going to make any condition worse.”

Custom Kups closing

The Main Street shop for Keurig coffee cups will close at the end of May.

But that doesn’t mean Custom Kups is going out of business – owner Tabatha Tobey said she hopes to find another location in Concord.

Tobey opened the shop on North Main Street two years ago to sell “K-cups,” the single-serve pods of coffee and tea for Keurig machines.

“Unfortunately with the traffic flow that we’ve been having at this time, it just hasn’t been the strongest business right now,” she said.

While she hasn’t found a new location yet, Tobey said she hopes to find “a better location for our loyal customers” in the coming months.

“It’s a very, very, very sad decision for us,” Tobey said. “We absolutely love and adore the Main Street community and we love our spot on Main Street.”

Cabs in Concord

Could Concord lose all its taxis to failed inspections, like Manchester?

“Not a chance,” said Concord Health and Licensing Officer Gene Blake.

After media reports earlier this month that all of Manchester’s taxis were taken off the road, Blake said he’s never had a problem like that in Concord.

Taxis are inspected according to state inspection guidelines, Blake said, and drivers are also licensed. The city has scheduled inspections and performs random checks.

If a taxi has a problem, Blake said the code enforcement office works with the driver or company to get it back on the road as soon as possible. Reached last week, Blake didn’t have an official count of taxis and drivers in Concord.

“The boys and ladies that drive cabs here are very good people,” he said.

New Kennedy units

New apartments could be coming to downtown Concord, in the John F. Kennedy Building.

The affordable housing complex at the corner of South Main and Thompson streets now has 82 units – and a long waiting list, said John Hoyt, executive director of Concord Housing + Redevelopment.

Hoyt said his organization hopes to renovate vacant office space on the first floor of the building to create six new apartments.

Before construction can begin, Hoyt needs to receive approval for funding and go before the Concord planning and zoning boards. If plans move forward, construction could begin as early as November, with residents moving in six months later.

“I already have 639 people on my current waiting list for my current building,” he said. “So I don’t see a problem filling them very quickly.”

Art in April

Artwork will be all over Concord on Friday.

The Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce’s annual Art Concord event and the Friends Program’s Art Walk are organizing art displays in downtown galleries, shops and restaurants.

Many of the venues will display custom-made mirrors that the Friends Program plans to auction at its May 3 charity event, according to a press release from the chamber of commerce.

The art walk stops include: the Concord City Auditorium, the Kimball-Jenkins Estate, the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, McAuliffe-Shephard Discovery Center, NHTI, New Hampshire Furniture Masters Association, Red River Theatres, Rowland Studio and The Works Bakery Cafe.

Local students’ artwork will also be on display this year, in an Art Concord Youth pop-up gallery at 38 N. Main St. Some student art will also be on display at the Kimball-Jenkins Estate.

The event will kickoff at 4 p.m. Friday, with a reception and wine tasting at the Concord Food Co-op. After visitors walk through the art galleries, a closing reception will begin at 6 p.m. at Merrimack County Savings Bank on North Main Street.

More Main Street

Want to see the latest layout for Concord’s Main Street redesign?

The project’s design team will hold a public meeting tomorrow night. Roberge said the design team will present its latest graphics and images of all the details, including sidewalks, landscaping, lighting, parking meters and even garbage cans.

“We might focus on an area of two or three blocks where we actually have all the amenities laid out,” Roberge said.

The city council is expected to finalize designs in May for the streetscape project.

Tomorrow’s meeting begins at 6 p.m. in the city council’s chambers.

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

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