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Editorial: Main Street investment well worth it

Urban centers are not static. Concord’s historic downtown, depending on decisions made in the next few weeks, could turn toward higher vacancy rates, lower property values and increasing shabbiness, or take an upward path to increased vitality.

Do nothing, or make merely cosmetic changes to spruce things up as some suggest, and the decline will begin. Gamble by agreeing to spend $10 million-plus dollars to transform the streetscape, as city officials propose, and the trajectory should turn upward. We urge the council to vote in favor of moving ahead. Thanks to a $4.71 million federal grant and clever financing by the city, the impact on taxpayers, compared to the potential gain, is small.

The loss of heated sidewalks, perhaps the most popular part of a redesign of Main Street that was years in the making, should not doom the project. That amenity was only possible economically as long as Concord Steam’s dream of a new wood-fired power plant became a reality, but that dream was not to be.

To move forward means giving up other dreams, including plans to minimize the harm to businesses by conducting most construction at night. That requirement, among others, resulted in construction bids that came in double the projections. So out with the night work.

Severino Trucking, whose name is a reflection of its past and not its present as the company that carried out redesigns in downtown Portsmouth, Newmarket and Somersworth, will primarily work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Staying within the city’s $10.22 million budget required a departure from the norm that made suspicious-minded residents fear chicanery.

Instead of putting out a request for bids for the project and looking bug-eyed upon opening them, the city engineer, consultants and others worked with Severino to arrive at costs for each element of the project. The ones deemed to have too little bang for the buck – iron fencing around the planters and solar-powered trash cans, for example – were scratched. The unfortunately situated clock tower will remain where it is, blocking the view into Eagle Square.

Negotiating such matters behind close doors was a violation of transparency that we reluctantly agree was necessary for the project to progress. In the end, however, all decisions will be made after public input and by the city council, not city officials.

To stay within budget, the redesign had to shrink from 12 blocks to the nine that form the spine of the current downtown.

Again, a necessary change. Most of the elements created with input from the 17-member citizen panel remain. The street will shrink from the sort-of four lanes it is now, to two wide lanes with a cobblestone median. The sidewalks will be widened to, in most places, 18 feet; the two-step curb on the west side of the street, which might as well be a wall for people in wheelchairs, will be eliminated. So too will the steps to 18 of the 20 buildings now inaccessible to people with a mobility disability.

To offset the loss of heated sidewalks, and to alleviate the fear that landscaping and other investments would soon deteriorate for want of adequate maintenance, the redesign plan calls for the city to designate four employees to serve as year-round maintenance personnel and Main Street ambassadors.

One cut, given the size of the overall project, isn’t worth making. That’s the plan to save some $160,000 by eliminating uplighting at each tree planter.

Lights, particularly given energy-efficient LEDs, are a cheap way to beautify a cityscape and create dramatic effects.

One thing the redesign project won’t do is connect Concord’s downtown with its river, but that may yet happen. It’s possible, when Interstate 93 is widened, that a portion of the interstate as it passes through downtown will be buried to permit greenspace above it. If that happens, the investment Concord makes in its Main Street today will become even more valuable, and downtown Concord’s future even brighter.

Legacy Comments9

Dear Concord Monitor: Two public 'Complete Street' meetings were held at Concord's Holiday Inn this week (Tue am & Wed pm), yet no report found in your newspaper. What's up with that?

I have always been critical of this whole Main Street make over, but in all the press releases and propaganda one thing is missing. With the "If you build it, they will come" philosophy, what and who are they? Downtown has it's share of specialty and eclectic shops, but offers nothing to average consumers. The key draw in most shopping malls are what they call the anchor stores. Main Street has nothing even remotely related to an anchor store. Truth be told as far as the descriptor - family friendly goes, downtown is really anything but. Except for Concord Market Days, downtown is usually devoid of children. Wider sidewalks won't change that, single lane traffic and fewer parking spaces will make it even more off limits. So tell me just who is this project going to benefit or attract?

Excellent point on the lack of an 'anchor store' on Main Street, GC (conjures old images of FW Woolworth's & JJ Newberry's). Without an anchor store in the mix, at least one...preferably two or more, the honeymoon will be brief. Oh, they'll come, alright; but only to satisfy their curiosity. Point is, just like the Visiting Nurses, they won't stay.

Everyone reading this article will be in the ground before I-93 get buried. As far as the Main Street project goes "the train left the station a long time ago" there is no turning back one the TIGER grant was secured. This Main Street project should have been a much smaller scale - Pleasant Street to Center Street but that would not make the developer of South Main Street happy. Just remember all major office development along Main Street has received some type of government subsidy. So why not ask for more.

Too bad they can't bury I-93, because the exhaust fumes could be channeled to heat the sidewalks of Main Street. The affects of the carbon monoxide would lend new meaning to the old phrase, "shop till ya drop".

When and if the 93 through Concord gets buried, could be the one way to eliminate the eyesore for people heading north. However I fear that those same rusted vehicles in what was/is Arnold's along 93 will be there until they turn to dust. Been looking at some of the very same trucks for nearly 50 years. Clean that up first, then talk about increasing commercial property values on Main Street.

Those out-of-state vehicles will be rusting a lot faster, if they try to "bury" I-93 anywhere near that river. The water table won't allow it. No sir, I'm afraid we're stuck with that northbound traffic until the Jetson generation arrives. "Oh, Eddie's in the basement, mixing up the medicine, for the new pavement on old Main Street; So the mayor & his councils can shove it past your tonsils. Look out, kid..."

"Investment, Dreams, Negotiating" - It is tragic how the liberals use words to create a narrative to hide the reality of their massive tax and spend tradition. 1) if as the title says...."Main Street investment well worth it" then why not "beautify" all 12 blocks if 9 blocks is such a great investment? When one uses "dreams" to identify what they are doing then you have elected to Govt people that don't know that Govts sole purpose is to provide for the needs of the public NOT their own "dreams". Finally, if a reader thinks there was any negotiating VS a complete abdication of the elected officials fiduciary responsibility then they are probably a LIDV.

This project is DOA. Concord residents don't "fear chicanery" here, they strongly suspect shenanigans. Why? Because the process is lacking in democracy. Specifically, wouldn't it have been more prudent for the city (Mayor Bouley, the CCC, engineer Ed Roberge, et al) to trim the project down to its leanest, most practical image, THEN turn it out for bid? The good citizens of Concord would have to be 100% Eloi not to be suspicious of favoring just one contractor, Morlock Trucking Company; or whatever name they're calling their former selves. This whole mess is giving me the Subterranean Homesick Blues.

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