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Downtown: Bringing life to the back of Concord

Last modified: 4/24/2013 10:09:14 AM
Efforts are under way to improve Concord’s backside – the view of downtown from Interstate 93.

It could include colors, signs or lights on the backs of buildings, or changes to draw people to Main Street from Exit 13 and Exit 14. A new group, called Concord’s New Front Door, will seek public input in the coming months.

“Many people have remarked over a long period of time that the view of Concord from the highway . . . isn’t very appealing and doesn’t tell you anything about what’s going on downtown,” said Chris Carley, a local architect.

Carley is leading Concord’s New Front Door, which is organized by the Creative Concord committee of the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce. The group will work closely with city officials and downtown property owners.

Last year, Creative Concord began holding informal meetings with city officials and downtown landlords about the view of Concord from Interstate 93, said Byron Champlin, chairman of the Creative Concord committee.

“Everybody felt that something should be done,” Champlin said. “Although there wasn’t a complete consensus of what to do.”

This year, Champlin said Creative Concord is making the project a priority. The group will hold a charrette this spring to brainstorm ideas, followed by another public session to review potential plans.

“I wouldn’t want to foreclose any idea at this point,” Carley said. “In the very early stages we want to hear all kinds of ideas.”

Among the possibilities mentioned by Carley and Champlin:

∎ Lighting displays or colorful lighting at night.

∎ Planting trees or shrubs to keep transformers, fences or electrical equipment out of sight.

∎ Painting vivid murals or colors on the backside of buildings.

∎ Painting the state’s legislative parking garage an attractive and vibrant color.

Carley and Champlin said they hope the brainstorming sessions this spring will inspire people to think of other creative ideas, such as a display similar to the colorful light projection that appeared on the former New Hampshire Savings Bank building next to the State House last fall.

“That has possibilities in terms of creating imagery that could be temporary and could happen in such a way that people from the highway could see it,” Carley said.

Once ideas are in place, Carley said the group will identify funding sources and work to bring their ideas to life. Some projects might qualify for grant money, while others could be funded by donations or property owners.

“Usually with these kinds of planning, exercises there are some ideas that are easy to implement and could be done right away . . . and then there are others that are more ambitious,” he said.

The idea to improve the view of Concord from I-93 isn’t new – business leaders and elected officials have talked about the issue for years.

“When the city was created, the front door was Main Street,” Carley said. “The interstate changed all of that, and we’ve been attempting to reconcile our city plan with that ever since.”

With construction on a new Main Street streetscape scheduled to begin this fall, Carley said it makes sense to complete this project simultaneously.

“The whole question of the appearance of downtown obviously came back up to the top of the list in people’s minds,” Carley said. “And we realized . . . as we were looking at the downtown plans, that there really wasn’t anything in there that addressed the issue of what it’s like to get to the highway from Concord or what you see of Main Street from the highway.”

For more information, visit the group’s Facebook page: Concord’s New Front Door.

Salon de Concord closes

The Kimball Jenkins Estate is closing its gallery for local artists. The Salon de Concord didn’t draw enough visitors or sales to support itself, said Ryan Linehan, the estate’s executive director.

The gallery opened last June and allowed Concord-area artists to display a few pieces of art at a time, with the estate keeping a relatively low commission on sales. Linehan said about 30 local artists displayed their work.

“We were hoping to get some sales from it and we really didn’t,” he said. “And one of the tough parts is when we have an opening, the artists and the artists’ friends come, but they don’t buy artwork. So it’s a tough situation.”

The estate’s Jill C. Wilson Gallery will return to displaying “artists you would normally see in New York or Boston, but not necessarily Concord,” Linehan said.

“It generates more traffic, and it’s easier to get sponsorships,” he said. “It’s . . . also a little bit better for our students. We try to be a learning gallery and use it to inspire our students.”

Its current show began on Friday and features artists Barbara Filleul, Charlie Goodwin and Tae Nelson.

Concord’s new brand?

Connect. Create. Celebrate. That’s the new brand for Concord, proposed by the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber’s Creative Concord committee plans to present the brand and accompanying logo to the city council. The city and other organizations can then use it to speak “with one clear voice,” said Byron Champlin, the committee’s chairman.

“The idea here, again, is to start to present a consistent image of the city and a consistent message and a consistent brand that helps to position Concord most favorably that people want to come to visit,” he said.

Champlin said “Connect. Create. Celebrate.” captures the energy of Concord.

“People come here, they make connections,” he said. “Those connections lead to creative energy, and that gives us a reason to celebrate.”

Last year, the committee developed a different brand: “Creative Capital.” But they postponed their presentation to the city council and reconsidered the idea.

“ ‘Creative Capital’ kind of said much the same thing, but in one less word,” Champlin said.

The logo for the newest brand idea looks much like the previously proposed “Creative Capital” logo. It’s meant to evoke the shape of the Merrimack River with its blue brush strokes, Champlin said, and the city’s green spaces with green lettering.

But the brand and logo aren’t meant to replace the city seal or other images associated with Concord, Champlin said.

“The intent here is to have an upbeat representation of what the city is today,” he said.

YMCA plans spring social

The Concord Family YMCA will host its 9th annual spring social this month.

The fundraiser, “In Good Spirits,” will be held at the Capitol Center for the Arts on March 29. It will include wine and beer tasting, auctions and a “top chef” style cook-off to make the best bite-sized sandwich, according to Kim Murdoch of Murdoch Social Capital.

Proceeds from the event will go to the YMCA’s community support campaign. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit concordymca.org.

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


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