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Editorial: On Main St., a once-in-generation effort

The years-long effort to redesign and reconfigure downtown Concord has, like an Olympic figure skater who blows a quadruple axel, landed on its butt. The city, for the second time, received a single construction bid that came in more than double the estimate expected by city engineers and a paid consulting firm. Much explaining lies ahead, but the question is what to do now.

We suggest that, like an Olympic skater, the city get up, readjust – drop the planned triple lutz – and complete the program. What must not happen is nothing. Concord’s downtown is tired. Its cultural and historic resources are on the brink of making the city a destination for visitors, but those attractions, and many Main Street businesses, are struggling. The city is at a tipping point. If only minor, cosmetic changes are made, downtown could tip in the wrong direction.

The first step, of course, is coming up with accurate, real-world estimates for each component of the project. Once that’s done, project planners and the city council can decide what’s in and what’s out, what’s worth borrowing for, if necessary, and what should be put off or scrapped.

Some things are a must. First among those is a redesign of Main Street that eliminates the steps up to sidewalk level that are a major impediment to accessibility. After all, that is what the receipt of the $4.71 million federal grant was largely based on. Downtown must be made safe and easy for everyone of every age and physical ability to visit and enjoy. Achieving that requires reducing the street from four lanes to three with a crossable median and islands that provide safe refuge for pedestrians. The current configuration creates continuously shifting blind spots for pedestrians and motorists alike. Crossing Main Street rarely feels safe and often isn’t.

Wider sidewalks are also a must, both to allow the great majority of the area’s historic buildings to be made handicap accessible and to allow for the sidewalk cafes and gathering places that give a destination downtown its ambiance. Heating the downtown street and sidewalks, while it may seem like a luxury, could also be the key to creating the kind of foot traffic that businesses need to prosper. New Hampshire is a graying state that’s less steady afoot than it once was. Few people are willing to go shopping at the risk of a broken hip. Heating the street and sidewalks, while it will come at some additional cost, will also free up human resources and allow the city to clear the sidewalks leading to schools and other critical areas more quickly, so everyone should benefit.

City officials need to clearly explain what it will cost to heat the streets and to what extent doing so is contingent on the continued operation of Concord Steam, a business whose fate is inextricably linked with that of downtown. Some downtown property owners could afford the substantial cost to retrofit their buildings so they could be heated with natural gas should steam heat become unaffordable or Concord Steam close. But some could not, and others would have to raise rent and lease rates to levels that would drive out tenants. What’s at stake, with the fate of the Main Street redesign project and cost of steam heat, is the future of Concord’s downtown. The redesign of a city’s Main Street is, at a minimum, a once-in-a-generation effort. Residents and visitors will live with the decisions made now for decades, so what’s done must be done right.

It will almost certainly make sense, once the scope of the Main Street project is reconsidered, for the city to bond the shortfall between its estimate and the bid that’s ultimately accepted. To decide, residents will need to know what every million dollars of long-term debt means for their tax bill. Our bet is that price will be not just affordable, but a good investment.

Legacy Comments7

Agreed, this expensive redesign will accomplish little, except, perhaps, to benefit the folks who are pushing for this project, the building owners. They should be paying for the solution to handicap accessibility issues and aesthetic improvements, not the taxpayer. Nothing addresses the problem of traffic into downtown, specifically the 8 or 9 traffic lights along Loudon Rd. from Hazen Dr. to N. Main. Traffic is frequently backed up from Ft. Eddy Rd to the Ice Arena. Of course, the plan to reduce Loudon to 2 lanes will reduce that portion to a 2 mile long parking lot that will put further stress on the viability of the Mall. How much revenue will Concord lose if the Mall shuts down?

Responsible people save up for a big expenditure. They put a little aside each year or paycheck. The Concord democrats just want the Federal Govt to pay for their Olympic sized whims. This is not a critical project - it isn't even on the Must Do list . It is on the "Things I would like to do with somebody else's money" list. The democrats have a skewed priority list and that explains why the USA has a $17 TRILLION in debt.

You keep looking at the "Main Street is dying" thing wrong. Main Street business aren't dying because the sidewalks are icy and not wide enough, or finding a parking place is too hard (although paying to park is a big factor). If people wanted to shop at one of these businesses, they'd go there - but they don't. There simply aren't businesses on Main Street to make you go out of your way. Way back when this project was hatched, I said "build it and they WON"T come". Sure, it would look nicer, but don't expect anything else to change. Why would I shop a downtown- and pay for parking to do so- just because the area looks nicer? Give us a better reason.

A few years back on a Sunday before Christmas I drove Main Street looking for a gift and found only the cooking store of cooking? While cashing out I mentioned to the owner that I found it odd her store was the only one open, she responded that she was there to make a living while many of the stores served as a hobby for spouses or similar. She was spot on and you are correct rje, there is little demand for the goods sold on Main Street unless you attend the farmers market on Saturday mornings. This is not Portsmouth and never will be. The federal dollars would be better spent on healthcare reform. I also find ironic the monitor is in support of investing $8 million in local taxpayer monies in downtown after it fled to a more serene setting and less costly alternative;rebuilding in the downtown area and spending a few more of its own shekels.

best comment of the year|!

Again I ask...where is the climate scientist opinion on the heated streets? If you really believe them....10 years ago they said ..snow is a thing of the they snow in the cold areas will have to depend on more snowmaking...with more natural snow??? Short one knows.....and thats why there is no climate scientist advising the city on the heated streets...

"10 years ago they said ..snow is a thing of the past", Really???? I'm not big into the matter, but you are making a gross exaggeration to try to make political points. I don't care if they heat the sidewalks or not, but I do expect winters to continue being colder than summers and maybe with the increases in freezing rain we seem the be getting, some defense from it isn't a bad idea.

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