Downtown: Concord’s New Front Door unveils ideas
Lights and landscaping on the Loudon Road bridge leading to Main Street. Sculptures resembling Concord’s skyline along Interstate 93. A mosaic on the highway underpass at Exit 14.
Those ideas, shared last week, are the latest developments in the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce’s effort to improve the view of Concord from the highway and attract visitors to Main Street.
A small committee, called Concord’s New Front Door, held a brainstorming session this spring. Last week, chairman and local architect Chris Carley presented the most promising and feasible ideas.
“We did choose to focus on ones that we felt had the most short-term promise,” Carley said.
He showed images of a skyline-like sculpture between the highway and the Capitol Shopping Center on Storrs Street. That design draws attention to the backs of buildings on Main Street, Carley said. The backside of those buildings could also be lined with small white lights at night.
But the ideas have no official plan, price tag or timeline.
“We have intentionally kept things vague and I encourage you to look at these sketches as springboards for how we might do things as opposed to proposals that either need to be accepted or rejected,” Carley told the small crowd gathered for his presentation at the Grappone Conference Center last week.
Other ideas include public art along the directional signs on the Loudon Road bridge at the intersection with Main Street that form an archway over the road.
Carley showed images of Bridge Street with banners hanging from light poles, flower beds in the concrete median and colored lights strung through the fences.
Additional public art could be placed in the grassy areas at Exit 14, Carley said, where motorists often sit and wait at red lights.
“This is an opportunity, since we have a captive audience, to tell them something about downtown,” he said.
The presentation drew mixed reactions Monday night, with some residents saying the designs may negatively affect Concord’s historical character.
“People come and shop and stop in Concord not because it’s a flashy, pretty city, they come because of the historical significance of Concord, New Hampshire, and that’s what we’ve got to concentrate on,” said Conrad Young, an artist and retired owner of Young Associates advertising firm.
But several other residents praised the ideas.
“While I completely appreciate the desire to preserve the historical aspect of Concord, which is something that all of us love, I also want to be aware of what the changing demographic is . . . and what is it that’s going to entice the younger families and the younger generation, the next generation wanting to come here,” said Tonya Rochette, president of Intown Concord’s board of directors.
Liz Hengen, a local historic preservationist, suggested that modern designs along the highway and entrance points to Main Street relate in some way to the historic Main Street.
“I think that downtown Main Street stands on its own merits and it doesn’t preclude doing something very dynamic or very contemporary along this part here,” she said.
There are other areas the committee would like to improve but have not yet explored, Carley said, like the power substation next to the Ralph Pill Marketplace and the view of the legislative parking garage on Storrs Street.
Carley said the New Front Door group, part of the chamber of commerce’s Creative Concord Committee, will now work to define the costs of moving forward. The group will also identify obstacles, like city permitting and permission from property owners. He said there may be available grant funding for public art.
“I’ve heard not necessarily agreement on the details tonight, but I’ve heard a general consensus that something needs to happen out here,” Carley said.
Carley said the group will work to move the project forward.
“These things take many years, and bits and pieces happen and bits of pieces never do,” he said.
To view the New Front Door slideshow, visit concordnhchamber.com.
Handmade for the holidays
Concord Handmade has returned for a third holiday season on Main Street.
Owner Alison Murphy opened the holiday pop-up shop Friday, and will close for the season Dec. 29.
She is selling handmade goods from about 50 different local artists at 2 N. Main St., the corner of Main and Pleasant streets.
“I’d say we maybe have 10 to 15 new artists this year,” Murphy said.
This year’s new items include clothes, cat toys and housewares.
About 60 parking spaces on Storrs Street could be reopened as discounted permit parking for downtown employees.
The city’s parking committee recommended using the spaces during construction on Main Street next year. Matt Walsh, the city’s director of redevelopment, downtown services and special projects, said the committee employees would use the spaces, leaving more convenient parking open for downtown shoppers.
“The trade-off is it’s a little out of the way, but at the same time, it would be very inexpensive to park at,” Walsh said.
The city council gave City Manager Tom Aspell the authority earlier this year to change parking regulations during the upcoming renovations on Main Street. Walsh said he is reviewing whether the Storrs Street recommendation must go before the city council, or whether that vote gave Aspell the authority to begin the changes.
Walsh said the spaces will open before the start of construction next spring.
The parking committee suggested a rate of $33 per month, according to meeting minutes, but recommended giving Aspell flexibility to set the rate. When the spaces are opened, parking permits will be sold through the city’s parking division.
Grinch at Gibson’s
Gibson’s Bookstore wants Concord kids to do good deeds this holiday season.
The store is participating in Random House Publishing’s Grinch Community Cares Project. Now through Midnight Merriment on Dec. 6, customers can pick up a bingo card at Gibson’s that lists 25 good deeds.
“It ranges from help making dinner, tell everyone in your family that you love them, to donating some toys to charity,” said Isabel Berg, Gibson’s children’s book specialist.
After completing three deeds, kids can return to the bookstore with their card and Random House will donate a book to a local child. Five good deeds earns kids a pin that says, “I grew my heart three sizes,” echoing a line from How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
The program also promotes shopping locally; customers who complete 10 deeds and bring three receipts from local businesses will receive a Grinch activity packet and will be entered in a drawing to win gift certificates from shops in downtown Concord.
City offices will be closed Thursday and Friday for Thanksgiving.
Downtown parking is free both days.