'Despite proposals, no fix yet for The Works'

Last modified: 3/21/2011 12:00:00 AM
Fourteen inches is turning out to be a daunting gap to bridge in the debate over accessibility at Phenix Hall.

That's the distance separating the historic building's entrances, including the door to The Works Bakery Cafe, from the sidewalk below. Landlord Mark Ciborowski replaced the two granite steps last year when he renovated the facade at 36-42 N. Main St., setting off a dispute with the Disabilities Rights Center over whether he was required to make the building wheelchair-accessible at the same time.

Ciborowski, a prominent downtown property owner, has said that he supports accessible design and looked at putting in a ramp or other means of access at Phenix Hall but that nothing worked in the space. And the two sides disagree over what is actually required under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The center has said it could sue over the issue, and protesters held a rally outside the Works in January. But for the past several months, the parties have been talking to try to find a solution.

Earlier this month, the center sent Ciborowski seven or eight ideas for ramps and other solutions, "different ways to make Phenix Hall accessible," said James Fox, a staff attorney at the center.

"Mr. Ciborowski wanted us to get some design descriptions . . . so we put together some design descriptions and sent them over to him," Fox said.

Jack Crisp, Ciborowski's lawyer, said last week the "two- or three-sentence descriptions of alleged possible means of access to the building" will be examined. He wasn't optimistic.

Five would involve construction on the sidewalk, which requires city approval. One would relocate the entrance to the side of the building from the front, and another would eliminate more than 20 percent of The Works's interior, including a big chunk of its seating, Crisp said.

"We've sent the letter to our professionals, engineers and code-assessment people, to evaluate them," Crisp said. "Initial review suggests that none of the designs are code-compliant. But we're looking at them and will give them serious consideration."

Phenix Hall opened in 1895 after the original Phenix Hall, built in 1855, burned down. It's home to the Works, the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen and a vacant storefront, as well as an unused theater upstairs.

 Treasure Chest closing

Concord's Treasure Chest is shutting down, and the secondhand store's owner faults the city's new pawnshop ordinance.

Bobby Reid said city officials haven't given him a definitive answer on whether the law, passed by the city council in November, applies to his store. If so, he would have to pay $500 a year for a license and keep detailed records for the police.

But he's not waiting for a ruling - Reid was selling off his stock last week, and said he plans to close the store in mid-April.

"It may be that I wouldn't fall under that umbrella. But why should I sit on edge and then at the last minute have to get everything out of here or get fined $1,000 for not meeting that criteria?" Reid said.

Reid opened Concord's Treasure Chest at 193½ N. State St. early last year. He sells used goods including costume jewelry and clothing, but said he can't afford to pay the new fee.

Reid said he does bridge construction work in the summer and may re-open his shop in Epsom later this year.

The pawnshop ordinance was crafted to help the police intercept stolen jewelry and other goods. But some business owners have criticized the rules, including the $500 annual fee, which is higher than the $50 fees for similar licenses in Nashua and Manchester.

Mayor Jim Bouley said at last week's council meeting that he has "some concerns" about the ordinance and will discuss possible solutions with the police.

 Churches and criterium

The city council didn't give the green light last week for Herb Hodgdon's proposed downtown bicycle criterium. But it didn't say no, either.

Hodgdon, the owner of Revolution Cyclery at 24 Pleasant St., is organizing a criterium that he hopes will draw 250 to 350 cyclists to downtown Concord on Aug. 21 for a race through city streets.

He asked the council to approve closing several streets, including a section of North Main Street, for the race. But the council last Monday sent the request to the police department for review after hearing from neighborhood churches worried about services that Sunday.

Hodgdon said he's talking with the churches about ways to balance their needs with the event's.

"The goal still is to have everybody be happy with it, or at least okay with it," he said Friday. "I know it's going to be an inconvenience to the churchgoers, but we're going to try to make it as minimal as possible."

And the council wasn't set against the race itself. Bouley and Keith Nyhan, the Ward 7 councilor who asked the police to look at the request, both said it'll be a "great event."

 Cap Center gets down

Concord's hottest new nightclub might just be the Capitol Center for the Arts.

The center, 44 S. Main St., is setting up a dance floor in its Spotlight Cafe on Saturday to welcome three bands: the Blue Ribbon All Star Band, the Tan Vampires and the Crunchy Western Boys.

Tickets are $10 in advance or $12 at the door. The first band will take the stage at 9 p.m. and the event will run until 1 a.m. There will be a cash bar and dancing, and no one under 21 is allowed.

"There's not really a music club per se in Concord," said Vivian LeWine, the center's programming manager. After a scheduled act fell through, she said, "a few of us here said, let's see what we can do, let's try to get something started where we can have some bands in, charge an affordable cover at the door."

Saturday night's show is the first in what's being called Late Night in the Spotlight, and a second is scheduled for April 23. The center will book more acts for May and June "and hopefully get enough momentum going that we can keep this on a regular series," LeWine said.

 Duprey's new old building

Steve Duprey is the new owner of 10 Pleasant St. Ext., the two-story building that houses the Lighting Place.

The Concord developer bought the property, which was assessed at $296,300, on Jan. 20 for $400,000, according to appraisal records.

For close to half a century, it's belonged to some iteration of Harry Shapiro & Sons, the company that also owns the first floor of the Endicott Hotel, 1-5 S. Main St., and the Aubuchon Hardware building at 80 S. Main St.

"Steve's always wanted to buy that, for the last 30 years," said R. Peter Shapiro, who with his wife, Betty, runs the company named for his grandfather. "More than that. As long as I've known him."

Shapiro turned 74 earlier this month, and his three adult children aren't interested in taking over the properties, "so it made sense to sell," he said.

So what does Duprey, whose big-ticket projects include the new office building on the Sanel Block, have cooking?

"Nothing. Nothing at all," Duprey said. "The Lighting Place is not going anywhere. . . . That is a historic building that is going to stand as long as I have anything to do with it."

The building, he pointed out, was once home to the Monitor. And while he may look at replacing the windows this year, no big changes are planned.

Shapiro said he doesn't have any deals right now to sell his other two properties.

"It's certainly not a great time to do it," he said. "I don't have a compelling reason to do it."

 FIT gets grant

Families in Transition is $20,000 closer to moving its boutique thrift store from Bicentennial Square to Main Street.

The Manchester-based nonprofit, which runs homeless services and housing, announced the grant from the Citizens Bank Foundation last week.

The money will help the group move its OutFITters Thrift Store Boutique from 5 Market Lane in Bicentennial Square to a larger storefront on Main Street, said Michele Talwani, the group's director of economic development and marketing.

The group was awarded more than $277,000 in state tax credits last year to help finance the project. As of last week, $118,000 in credits had been sold, Talwani said, with 80 percent of the proceeds going to the group and 20 percent going to the state Community Development Finance Authority.

But deadlines are looming, she said. The authority, which awarded the tax credits, wants them to sell an additional $70,000 by the end of the month.

"We're feeling pretty good," Talwani said. "The community has really stepped up and really understands the value of this downtown economic development project."

 Rock, race & fundraise

Downtown merchants are gearing up to raise money during the Rock 'N Race, the 5K walk and run now in its ninth year as a fundraiser for Concord Hospital's Payson Center for Cancer Care.

For a second year, businesses will sign up to donate a percentage of sales or a flat amount to the center every time a race participant makes a purchase. The promotion will run May 14-28, with the race itself May 19.

Seventeen businesses signed up last year, and "we're hoping to get at least 30 this year," said Gerry Carrier, co-owner of Little River Oriental Rugs at 10 N. Main St. and an organizer of the Merchants Round Table group. The deadline to sign up is April 23.

"We're just trying to remind people that supporting local businesses also supports local organizations as well," Carrier said.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com.)

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