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Downtown: Concord City Council to vote on public relations firm for Main Street project

When construction begins on Main Street this fall, residents could receive a “daily dig” report via email, telling them where work will be done that day. Signs posted around the city may direct visitors to parking garages and allow them to scan a code with their smart phone to access more information. And special events could draw visitors downtown, despite the heavy machinery and construction crews.

Those efforts would be coordinated by a public relations firm. Tonight, the city council will hold a public hearing and vote on whether to hire Louis Karno & Co. If approved, the firm will receive $190,400 for 20 months of work.

“Our goal is to try to get the whole community behind this project,” said Brett St. Clair, a partner at Louis Karno & Co. “There’s a big difference between people being spectators and players. Spectators tend to sit on the sidelines and be critical sometimes. . . . We’re not going to get everybody, but as many people as possible.”

The company’s proposal to the city focuses on downtown merchants. They will inform merchants about construction and address their concerns, St. Clair said. By promoting Main Street as a whole, St. Clair hopes to help prevent a lag in business during construction.

With what St. Clair described as a conservative budget, he said the firm will take a creative and “entrepreneurial approach” to the work. That will include relying on technology and using the city’s website.

The use of a public relations firm during the city’s redesign of Main Street was a recommendation from an advisory committee that met about the project last fall. Crews will begin work in September to reduce Main Street from four to two lanes, widen sidewalks, increase accessibility and

add landscaping and public art. Construction will pause during the holiday shopping season and winter months, and is scheduled to conclude by the end of 2014.

The city had four applicants for the marketing role, City Manager Tom Aspell said last month. The interview panel included Aspell, Deputy City Manager for Development Carlos Baia, City Engineer Ed Roberge and City Planner Gloria McPherson. Barley House owner Brian Shea also participated as a representative for downtown merchants.

Aspell said it was important to choose a local firm.

“You want a group who’s somewhat familiar with Concord,” he said.

Louis Karno & Co. is based on Warren Street and was founded by Jayme Simoes, its president.

“We really wanted to do this project because we live and work downtown,” said St. Clair, who has worked in Concord for the past 25 years. “Basically, we feel like we’re invested in this. We’ve got some skin in the game.

The firm has experience with travel and tourism marketing, St. Clair said, including marketing the country of Portugal to U.S. tourists.

“Most of the people at the city, for example, they don’t have anybody on staff who has the expertise that we do,” St. Clair said. “So the idea is basically this is very important to kind of maintaining commerce and . . . getting people in the community behind the project.”

Street light delay

The sample street lights that were scheduled for installation last week aren’t up yet.

City officials planned to place two light fixtures in front of Citizens Bank on North Main Street and gather feedback from residents about the quality of lighting. The fixtures were proposed to replace all existing lights on Main Street, as part of the city’s new streetscape project.

The samples were installed Tuesday, but had to be removed due to problems during installation, according to Aspell’s weekly newsletter.

“The design team is working to solve those problems and will look at another opportunity in the near future to showcase the lighting fixtures proposed for the projects,” Aspell wrote.

Tax credit time

In more Main Street project news, the fate of the city’s tax credit application will be determined tomorrow.

The city applied for $1.4 million in tax credits, which would cover a portion of the Main Street redesign project. Businesses could purchase the credits as donations to the project, which must be funded in part by the private sector.

Matt Walsh, the city’s assistant for special projects, told the city council in June the application process is highly competitive. Many organizations compete for a total of $5 million in tax credits each year, and the city may not receive the full amount it requested.

In the best-case scenario, Walsh said the city could receive $1.12 million for the project. (There is a 20 percent administrative fee with the grant.)

Last month, the city council put off decisions about extra assessment districts for properties to cover the approximately $1.57 million in private sector contributions for the project.

“To me, it’s virtually impossible to decide one way or another if we don’t even know what the credits are,” Mayor Jim Bouley said at a June meeting.

That wait will be over this week. The state’s Community Development Finance Authority, which reviews applications and awards the grants, will meet for deliberations tomorrow.

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

Dont we already pay for a public tv station that nobody watches?

Not sure why they even had a public discussion about this new idea. The majority of residents did not want this latest fiasco and per usual the city council had already made up their mind. There isn't a PR firm in the world that is going to make up for this theft of taxpayer money but I'm sure they were thinking "Well, since we are already in their wallet..." as they encumber our property taxes for the next couple of decades. Why couldn't some of the tireless cheerleaders that tried to demonstrate public excitement over the project just send out the weekly email since they are probably the only ones that will benefit.

Instead of a private p.r. firm, shouldn't 'daily dig updates' be the job of someone at City Hall? The general contractor should have a time-line worked out, and whoever oversees the project at City Hall should be working closely with them for daily updates. In theory, it's little different that watching the project unfold through a hole in the fence. It shouldn't be that difficult--or expensive.

$9,520 a month, will the city or construction company have to pay someone to tell this PR firm what is being done every day, how will they find out. Was that in the contract with the construction firm or will the city have to hire someone for this new single task, is this the first cost overrun..... They could not install 2 street lights on time so back to design team, will that be the second cost overrun.... and the obvious stall so the mayor can figure out how to get the tax payers to pay for the "private sector contributions". It has started, now the tax payers can hang on for the ride.

Why dont they save the 190k and just put up a road sign at either end of town that could be programmed? This sounds like a contract you give a buddy...For the money that you are giving the construction company you would think they could hit send on a group email. Waste. waste. waste.

You're right on target. Instead of a buddy, it could be a relative, though.

There has to be something big time wrong if the City feels they need to hire PR people. We the taxpayers will ultimately pay for this.

Only $190,400 to tell people where they're going to dig that day. What a bargain Concord is getting for this.

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