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Downtown renovation plans to be unveiled in Concord

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 05. 2013 8:50PM

CONCORD - The finished product isn't expected to be ready for two years, but Concord officials are excited about the prospect of kicking off the city's $7.85 million Main Street renovation project this year.

Three potential designs are scheduled to be unveiled at a meeting of the Main Street Design Review Team on Tuesday, Jan. 15, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the City Council chambers, 37 Green St.

"This is something the Chamber and our members are very excited about," said Tim Sink, president of the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce. "Our members have been very supportive of the city's efforts and are looking forward to seeing it through."

The City Council voted in November to accept recommendations for the project from an advisory committee. The details of the design have yet to be finalized.

"We want to be under construction by Sept. 30," said City Engineer Ed Roberge. "We're looking to have final approval to put it out to bid by the end of June, or the very beginning of July."

While the project has received support from many downtown business owners and city leaders, some residents aren't happy with it.

Jim Baer says he has opposed the project since the public hearing process began.

"I feel more time should have been allowed for the public to discuss such a large and expensive project," Baer told City Council members. "I'm feeling that it was rushed through with fear of losing the grant dollars."

Baer wants Concord to have a vibrant Main Street, but worries about how businesses will fare during the construction process.

Concord secured a $4.71 million federal grant last June to design and build the Downtown Complete Streets Improvement Project. Officials hope the renovations will reduce traffic congestion and improve safety for pedestrians and motorists by upgrading traffic signals, sidewalks, lines of sight and traffic flow along a 12-block section.

The advisory committee recommends reducing the number of lanes on Main Street to two, widening sidewalks and creating some parallel parking - if the number of parking spaces lost would be limited.

"The recommendation offers the flexibility to provide a truly transformative Main Street without losing significant parking," said Will Delker, a member of the advisory committee.

Officials forecast the improvements will reduce the vacancy in of downtown buildings, increase property values by 6 percent and create 82 jobs. Roberge said they are basing those predictions on results of similar projects in Keene and Manchester.

The Queen City reduced a section of Elm Street from four to three lanes in the mid-2000s.

"A report was presented on the Manchester project that was instrumental in securing the City Council's approval," said Roberge. "Keene, Manchester and Concord all have very different downtown areas. Keene is a younger crowd, Manchester is more entertainment and restaurant-based, while Concord is more retail-based, but we expect similar benefits here. Infrastructure improvements have all helped make the Verizon center, the Fisher Cats stadium, Art Institute and Currier Museum attractive destinations."

The advisory committee - composed of 17 downtown property and business owners, residents and city officials - recommends the project:

-- Establish a two-lane Main Street, with a crossable median that Roberge said would function like a three-lane road.

-- Make one side of Main Street, or sections of one side, feature parallel parking, provided the loss of parking spaces would be limited. Roberge estimates 21 parking spaces could be lost - five to parallel parking changes, 16 more to improvements needed to meet safety and accessibility regulations.

-- Include heated sidewalks.

With $1.57 million to be raised from the private sector, the committee recommended that state tax credits for improvements by business, available through the N.H. Community Development Finance Authority, be supplemented by the creation of a special assessment district. Owners of property in this district would be allowed 20 years to repay their share of the cost.

The federal grant will cover 60 percent of the estimated final cost, with the city and the private sector each contributing 20 percent.

Construction work should be done at night, the panel said, and the advisory committee should remain intact to consider design options as they arise.

Concord City Council members recently voted to accept the first funds from the federal grant. A committee of city officials and residents is now developing the project's final design.

The $420,000 in initial funding will cover the cost of designing the project, which encompasses a 12-block span of Concord's Main Street. The money includes $252,000 from the federal grant and an additional $168,000 from city coffers. The project area is focused on a 12-block, 4,200-linear foot section of Main Street, covering two sections: North Main Street from Storrs Street to Pleasant Street, and South Main Street from Pleasant Street to Storrs Street. The area includes sidewalks and parking on both the east and west sides of the street.

Roberge said the toughest piece of the project is now under way, as engineers and designers must work quickly to bring design options back before the City Council by March, with another round of design reviews scheduled for May.

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