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Concord councilors positive on revamped Main Street plan

Thirteen pages. $10.22 million. Two public meetings.

Fifteen councilors.

Those numbers are the basics for the newest Main Street project proposal, released Thursday to the members of the Concord City Council and the public. The document outlines recommendations from city staff on how to salvage the project, after two unsuccessful attempts to hire a contractor who could stick to Concord’s budget.

“I think I’m gratified that it is doable, that the majority of the project is doable,” said Councilor Byron Champlin, whose Ward 4 includes North Main Street.

City staff crafted the proposal during negotiations with general contractor Severino Trucking, consultant engineering firm McFarland Johnson and the Federal Highway Administration. They’ll present its details to the council tomorrow; the council will hear public comment and vote the project up or down in July. One day after reading those details for the first time, most councilors praised the staff’s effort to compromise on the original program to bring down the cost.

“I thought the administration got very creative with the financing of the project,” said at-large Councilor Fred Keach. “They’re careful not to impact the taxpayers to any greater degree.”

In its original form, the Main Street project would redesign and rebuild 12 blocks of Main Street. The city’s latest plan would preserve many of its original ideas like wider sidewalks and accessible entrances to business. But it would cut three blocks and some of the project’s flashier hallmarks – like buried utility lines on South Main Street and a snow-melt system for the sidewalks – to keep down costs.

The total bill would come to $10.22 million. That includes a $4.71 million federal grant, $560,000 in federal tax credits, more than $500,000 from impact fees and the water fund, $2.5 million previously dedicated to paying for buried utility lines on South Main Street and $2.38 million in city bonds. Because most of those funds have already been set aside for this project, city staff has said Concord would not have to bond any more money from the general fund under this proposal.

Ward 6 Councilor Allen Bennett, who represents South Main Street, said he agreed with the recommendation to not bury about 750 feet of power lines in the South End. That would have cost $2.5 million, which city staff has recommended putting toward general construction.

“I thought that was a fruitless endeavor,” Bennett said. “That’s a lot of money to bury two-and-a-half football fields of utilities.”

Bennett said he will walk up and down Main Street to gauge the merchants’ reactions before voting on the project.

But he wasn’t upset that two of the three blocks that would be eliminated from the project are in his ward. Shortening the length of the redesign would cut nearly $2 million from its cost.

“I’m somewhat disappointed but not to the point where it would be a dealbreaker for me,” Bennett said.

The staff’s recommendation against heated sidewalks was met with disappointment, but little challenge, from councilors.

“Personally, I’m concerned about the elimination of the heated sidewalks, not just for the aesthetics of it, but I know we have a lot of citizens with walking disabilities,” at-large Councilor Steve Shurtleff said. “But I understand because of the price tag, we had no choice.”

For Ward 8 Councilor Gail Matson, the snow-melt system was “a wonderful idea.”

“But the practicality of it may make it a difficult realization,” she said.

The proposal outlines two options for heated sidewalks. One is a natural gas system, which would cost $4.5 million to build and $1.1 million a year to maintain. The other is a steam system, which would also cost about $4 million to build and, depending on the price of steam, between $1.5 million and $2.5 million each year to maintain.

Because of those costs, Ward 9 Councilor Candace Bouchard said the snow-melt system seemed to be “no longer an option.”

“It’s pretty clear why the decisions went where they did,” Bouchard said.

Instead, Deputy City Manager for Development Carlos Baia has recommended what he calls a “red-carpet team.” The city would hire four full-time staff members who would be responsible for maintenance and snow removal in the downtown only. Salaries and benefits for those employees would cost $272,000 each year.

“There’s nothing worse than building something like (the Main Street project) and not having a plan in place to maintain it,” said at-large Councilor Mark Coen.

Ward 5 Councilor Rob Werner said he was against a snow-melt system from a “budget point of view.”

“I never was in favor of moving ahead. . . . I just didn’t think that the return on that kind of investment was wise,” Werner said.

Ward 3 Councilor Jan McClure said she’s read the proposal once, and before tomorrow’s presentation, she would read it “many more times over the weekend.”

“I’m impressed with the work that the city administration has done to pull something together, and I’m looking forward to learning more about it,” McClure said.

The councilors will hear a presentation from staff on the project at 7 p.m. tomorrow in council chambers, and that meeting is open to the public. During their regular monthly meeting on July 14, they’ll hear public comment, make any last adjustments to the proposal and vote on the project.

To read the recommendations from city staff, visit concordmainstreetproject.com.

“I’m going to wait until I hear from some members of the community that are impacted by this,” Ward 2 Councilor Allan Herschlag said.

And even with 13 pages, even with a detailed plan to find and spend $10.22 million on the project, even with two public meetings ahead, the 15 councilors will still need to vote to make it all happen.

“In any design or construction plan, there’s always something that somebody can find that they don’t like,” Champlin said. “I think the real question is, ‘Are you satisfied with the majority of the plan?’ And I think I am.”

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or mdoyle@ cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)

Legacy Comments2

The city that can't afford to put a Engine 1 back in service is now proposing 4 new Main Street maintenance positions at a cost of $272,000 dollars. I'd say that once again some people have serious priority issues.

There are plenty of far cheaper ways to bring more people in to the downtown area. The Concord City a Council is deaf to any and all ideas that oppose their grant spending agenda. Main Street, Engine 1, Loudon Road, and plenty more examples over the years show it's their way or the highway, regardless of how much opposition there is. And I say again, look at their batting average in terms of those projects that have all failed in their goals. Bicentennial Square. The Durgin Block. Parking garages not enough people use. The plaza behind the clock tower, was that one called Eagle Square? All of these downtown projects have failed. And this one will too, because at the end of the day it's business as usual. That's the part that needs changing, not the street scape. The city council is destined to consult Main Street to its's financial ruin.

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