January 26, 2006

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Concord Publisher's Note: Growing Pains
By Dan Szczesny

This week’s cover story by reporter Heidi Masek looks at an escalating problem in downtown Concord: the parking and obstruction hassles caused by the ongoing construction of Capital Commons.

In short, here’s the situation: the city gave the developer the land for $1, as incentive to build a high-quality building on the site. The developer agreed to build a 102,000-square-foot building for about $12 million in return for the city’s building a 512-space parking garage along with a couple public plazas and some streetscape improvements. The city gets to lease about 150 of those parking spots to tenants of the building and the tax revenue generated from the project helps defray much of the cost of the parking garage. Good deal for everyone, right?

Well, not quite.

No one questions the importance or long-term positive impact that the project will afford the city. The question is how much is the city willing to sacrifice in terms of injuring businesses and discouraging visitors in order to complete the project in a timely, thorough way.

I suppose timely is a relative term for this project, which has gone through more fits and starts than anyone would like. Just ask the folks over at Hermanos or Gibson’s Bookstore, two businesses that have had to suffer the inconveniences of construction trailers and fencing and bad parking to the point of endangering their livelihoods.

And since this is a public-private project, most business owners affected by the construction feel that the city, technically an equity partner with the developer, has a responsibility to the little guy. And they’re right.

That trailer and fencing that’s clogging up the Hermanos site and making the business look closed is on a public lot after all. So, why doesn’t the city just make the builder move the trailer? Well, according to some officials, it would cost the city an extra $40,000 to do so. That trailer is essentially an office building complete with hookups and other utilities necessary to manage the project. Fair enough, but too bad.

If absorbing that cost in order to give a well known, popular downtown eatery some relief is what it takes, then so be it. The fact is, better planning and management from the start would have prevented this problem.

Meanwhile, the Parking Committee was scheduled to meet this week to discuss the possibility of making that section of Main Street front-in parking, a proposal that would increase the number of parking spots in that area and provide some relief to businesses there. That’s unlikely to happen due to how much narrower Main Street is in that area, but it’s a start at least to get some ideas on the table toward providing relief.

Finally, in all fairness to the city, last spring when a series of public hearings were scheduled to discuss the coming construction and work on changing the parking ordinances to accommodate the change, not a soul showed up with ideas, advice or concerns. Maybe next time, a project of this size will be better handled from the start.

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