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Downtown: 17 of 18 inaccessible Main Street storefronts could be fixed by redesign

Most building entrances along Main Street will become accessible in the next few years.

The city’s engineers have potential solutions for 17 of 18 inaccessible storefronts, according to a chart tracking the plans. The solutions would become part of the city’s Main Street redesign project.

But the plans are still a work in progress.

City Engineer Ed Roberge said he has met with property owners, the Disabilities Rights Center and the state’s Division of Historical Resources to find potential solutions for the many old buildings with steps at their entrances. The design team is now finishing designs for

their proposed ramps and platforms.

Concord received a $4.71 million federal grant last year to redesign Main Street. The street will be reduced to two traffic lanes with a crossable center median and wider sidewalks with space for landscaping and public art. The project also aims to increase accessibility.

The city council approved the final project designs Thursday but authorized the design team to modify them to achieve accessibility.

Those changes must be made in cooperation with building owners, Roberge said, because many of the plans include interior building renovations.

“So we’ve had good rapport, good feedback, good response so far,” he said. “And I think we all agree that obviously the goal would be to have an accessible (a) downtown as possible.”

At Bread & Chocolate on South Main Street, engineers proposed a ramp on the sidewalk. Property owner Michael Herrmann said he doesn’t think it will require changes to the inside of his building, but he’s waiting to hear more from the city.

“The devil’s in the details,” Herrmann said. “We don’t know exactly how the proposal would be structured, but so far it seems very positive.”

Accessibility to only one storefront – 132 N. Main St. – is “not achievable at this time,” according to the city’s chart of properties.

“We believe (it) requires some significant internal modifications to the building,” Roberge said. “Obviously we wouldn’t participate in that and the onus is essentially on the owner.”

Trilogy Hair Studio occupies the storefront, and landlord Remi Hinxhia said he’s been told a ramp would require interior renovations that could alter the building’s historical features.

“Right now, it’s not up to me to go get an engineer to run the numbers when the city’s already doing the work,” Hinxhia said. “If they prepare something, I’d be more than happy to look at it.”

On the Vegas Block, just south of Loudon Road, a tiered sidewalk would split into two levels. One would become level with the four business entrances, separated by a railing from the rest of the sidewalk below it.

There are currently small platforms at the entrances to three storefronts at the Eagle Hotel. Roberge said they could be made accessible by raising the sidewalk and sloping the platforms.

And at Phenix Hall, Roberge said he’s working on property owner Mark Ciborowski’s proposal to build an accessible platform.

Ciborowski’s plans show a ramp emerging from the sidewalk between Phenix Avenue and the clock tower, which will move from Eagle Square. The ramp leads to a platform and accessible entrances into Phenix Hall. The platform would also extend in front of the building, with space for tables outside The Works Bakery Cafe. It would include a railing, with two steps down facing Main Street, and off the south end of Phenix Hall.

Ciborowski is fighting a federal lawsuit filed by the Disabilities Rights Center on behalf of three wheelchair users, though his attorney, Jack Crisp, said last week that he’ll seek to have the lawsuit dismissed or halted until after the Main Street project renovations.

At 97 N. Main St., Roberge said the city could build a ramp in the sidewalk. The ramp would extend along the side of the building from the existing step, and the step would remain in place, said John Ransmeier, an attorney for the firm Ransmeier & Spellman and a partner with Capitol Street Associates, which owns the building.

“What they discussed with us . . . seemed to be a reasonably sensible solution to use,” Ransmeier said.

Some inaccessible storefronts already provide alternative entrances, so the city’s plans don’t include changes for them.

The main entrance of the Barley House has two steps, but handicapped customers can already enter through a different door on Main Street. The future home of the Siam Orchid on North Main Street will also have an alternative entrance when it opens.

The Disabilities Rights Center has also contacted property owners and met with city officials about the inaccessible storefronts.

“And we’ve really been delighted at the progress and the way owners have taken advantage of this opportunity,” said Executive Director Richard Cohen.

The next step: a formal review by the Division of Historical Resources. The state agency ensures that renovations will minimize harm to the historical buildings on Main Street.

After that review, Roberge said the city will speak with property owners about funding for the ramps and renovations.

“There are a number of grant opportunities that are out there for building owners to apply for if kind of a shared, cooperative effort is required,” he said.

Downtown patrols

Increased downtown police patrols have paid off, according to the city’s public safety board.

In April, a group of downtown business owners wrote a letter to the city council with complaints about loitering and panhandling. Their complaints included drug use and public urination.

The Concord police responded with an increased police presence. The public safety board also reviewed the issue, as the business owners had suggested a new city ordinance to address their complaints.

But that won’t be necessary, according to a report from City Councilor Amanda Grady Sexton, who serves as chairwoman of the public safety board.

The board found that existing city ordinances could be enforced to address complaints, and business owners are pleased with the police response.

“The business owners have noted a significant improvement as the result of enhanced police patrols and state that the problem seems to be resolved,” Grady Sexton wrote in a report to the mayor and city council.

Birthday celebrations

The Kimball-Jenkins School of Art is celebrating its 15th birthday this week.

Since the school’s founding in 1998, it’s grown “from a concept to promote art education in a historic downtown setting to a thriving art school with over 1,200 students throughout the year taking workshops and classes,” according to a press release.

The art school will celebrate its milestone with a birthday party at its student art show Thursday.

“We’ll have birthday cake, birthday decorations and we do have, I’ve been told, a surprise birthday present which I don’t even know what that is,” said Ryan Linehan, executive director of the Kimball-Jenkins Estate.

The show and celebration will begin at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Kimball-Jenkins Estate, with a special presentation at 5:30 from faculty member and artist Barbara Filleul.

On tap for Market Days

A beer tent could be returning to the Market Days street festival this year.

Intown Concord received approval from the city to serve beer and wine at the annual street festival for the first time last year.

The organization has applied to bring their local food, wine and beer tent back to Market Days this year. The annual festival is scheduled for July 18-20.

Health and Licensing Officer Gene Blake recommends issuing the permit again, “as there were no incidents or problems last year,” he wrote in a report to the mayor and city council.

The decision won’t be final until after tonight’s city council meeting. Intown Concord’s application is on the agenda, though it won’t require a special vote or public hearing.

Open house

The Mary Baker Eddy Historic House will host an open house Thursday.

The former home of Christian Science Founder Mary Baker Eddy was renovated in 2007 by LongYear Museum, which owns the house on North State Street.

Tours will begin on the hour and half past the hour between 11:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. at 62 N. State St., said Constance Shryack, the resident overseer. For more information, call 224-3444.

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

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