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Construction didn’t stop the party

  • Market Days visitors walk along S. Main Street past orange construction barrels marking the uneven pavement on Thursday, June 23, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Orange barrels mark the uneven pavement inside the S. Main Street construction zone during the Market Days Festival on Thursday, June 23, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • People walk along N. Main Street during opening day of Intown Concord’s Market Days Festival, Thursday, June 23, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Monitor staff
Published: 6/26/2016 11:37:27 PM

Two years ago, the city of Concord announced a stay on event permits in the downtown core during construction on the Main Street project.

The news worried the organizers of popular traditions like Market Days and the Rock ‘N Race, who rely on these events for revenue or fundraising dollars. Suddenly, they were uncertain where – and if – they could continue. 

“When we first got word they were not issuing event permits, there was a moment of panic,” Liza Poinier, operations manager of Intown Concord, said.

Her fears, however, were not realized.

“We contacted the folks at city hall, and we said, ‘Even Market Days?’” Poinier said. “They said, we’ll work with you. We’ll figure something out.”

A list from Concord’s code administration office counted 13 events on State House grounds, the city plaza and the downtown core in 2013. In 2014, that number was 31. And in 2015, during the construction on North Main Street, 19 events took place in the same area. They included major draws like the Concord Farmers Market, Market Days and the Rock ‘N Race. 

It’s unclear if any of the events that did not return in 2015 attempted to do so. But Gene Blake, the city’s health and licensing officer, said no one was barred from downtown. 

“We didn’t stop any events,” Blake said. “What we did was work with each organizer and change their locations.”

For example, runners and walkers in the Rock ‘N Race traditionally began on North Main Street. Last year and this year, the route started behind the New Hampshire State House on North State Street instead.

While Market Days has usually taken place in July, the construction schedule bumped the festival up to June. While orange pylons lined the center of the street, business owners and vendors said they preferred the earlier date for future years as well. The weekend even extended by one day this year, as the Runner’s Alley Capital City Classic 10K was added downtown Sunday. 

And due to the Main Street project and work on the state house dome, the Concord Farmers Market shifted one block west on Capitol Street; this year, the vendors moved back to their previous location. 

Events like Halloween Howl, the American Cancer Society Walk-A-Thon, the Concord Historical Society’s time capsule burial and others were also able to proceed in 2015. While the Concord Multicultural Festival was postponed, that change was due to a fundraising shortage, rather than interference with construction. That event returned Sunday on the State House lawn. 

Carlos Baia, deputy city manager for development, said Concord officials needed to be careful of people’s safety during construction. 

“Basically the fears that a lot of folks had at the outset, they became unfounded,” he said. “The local community organizers have been great and very tolerant of the construction.”

Fewer organizers ask for permits for South Main Street, city officials said, but they anticipated the new streetscape would increase requests. Through May, the 2016 calendar already included 15 events – a protest, a blood drive and a charity walk among them. For existing events, organizers like Poinier at Intown Concord are breathing a sigh of relief. 

“We crossed our fingers, put it on the schedule and everything worked out so beautifully,” Poinier said. “Everybody held hands and walked in the same direction.”

What’s in a name?

The Concord Feminist Health Center will now be known as the Equality Health Center.

The South Main Street nonprofit provides more than 3,000 patients each year with gynecological and sexual health services, including birth control and family planning, abortions, STD testing, pregnancy counseling and miscarriage management. In the last three years, the clinic has actively expanded its services for men and LGBTQ individuals. 

For example, check-in forms now allow patients to identify their sex, rather than asking them to choose between male and female. By boosting services like discounted STD checks and hormone therapy, the clinic also sees a much higher population of male and transgender patients than it did three years ago. 

“We felt that we were getting responses from some of our clients that they didn’t equate the word ‘feminist’ with men’s health services or LGBTQ services,” executive director Dalia Vidunas said. “We constantly get phone calls of, ‘Do you see guys? Can we come here?’” 

While Vidunas said the clinic still identifies itself with feminism, the new name is more clear. The mission statement has also been updated with more inclusive language, she said. 

“We wanted people to not have to question, will we see them?” Vidunas said. “We wanted people to be able to see this is a free and open and respectful and affirming place to go.”

The change is effective immediately; the website and Facebook page for the Concord Feminist Health Center will begin rerouting to web addresses for the Equality Health Center. The clinic’s address and phone number remain the same. 

One step closer

As early as this fall, the New Hampshire State House could be open during the weekend.

Gov. Maggie Hassan has signed a bill to allow the state to negotiate an agreement with a private entity to run tours on Saturdays. The Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce, which has run an informational kiosk outside the State House during tourist season for years, has agreed so far to be that host.

With the governor’s signature, president Tim Sink said the chamber is working on the language of that agreement. Then, fundraising begins. Under this proposal, the chamber will cover the costs of opening the building for Saturdays between Memorial Day and Columbus Day – estimated to be about $25,000. No state money will be involved.

Sink said he was encouraged by his initial conversations with business leaders in Concord. 

“The response I had was, ‘Yes, we’re interested. We’d be willing to participate. Come back to us when the time comes,’” Sink said.

If donations materialize, Sink predicted the chamber would run a pilot program during Saturdays in the fall. Admission will be free. 

“We’ll see how it works and iron out any of the kinks,” he said. “If we have a successful run, then we’ll look at (next year).”

Stop and go

This week of construction will be another short one, due to the upcoming July 4 holiday, according to an email update from the Main Street project PR team.

Crews will be off Friday and Monday. 

In the meantime, work will begin on undergrounding the utilities on South Main Street. Today, crews will dig a large hole in front of the John F. Kennedy apartments for a cement vault, which will eventualy hold power and telecommunications lines. The same work will take place in front of the Capitol Center for the Arts on Wednesday. 

During that work, some parking spaces and sidewalks in those areas will be closed. Flaggers will be assisting pedestrians. 

This week, Hills Avenue will also be stop-and-go traffic, alternating one way at a time while crews rebuild the sidewalk. Granite tiles and curbing will be installed elsewhere. 

For more information or to sign up for regular email updates about the construction project, visit concordmainstreetproject.com.

(Megan Doyle can be reached 369-3321, mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.) 




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