Case Study: Concord Main Street Project
The $11 million Concord Main Street Project, which was funded in part with a $4.7 million federal TIGER grant, was a historic renovation of Concord’s downtown core. It was scheduled over 18 months of active construction, from the fall of 2014 to November of 2016. The project’s major goals were to increase the width of the sidewalks to create a more pleasant visitor experience, drop driving lanes from four to two lanes to create a safer pedestrian environment, and increase accessibility at street level to 15 building entrances. In short, the goal was to make Main Street a destination and not a drive through.
A project with such lofty goals would mean causing significant disruption to downtown, traffic, visitors and business, which in turn creates several deep-rooted challenges from a community relations standpoint. These are the challenges that Louis Karno & Company was hired to overcome.
The basic approach to overcoming the challenges of this public project was to be as transparent as possible, while communicating clear, consistent information and not over-promising on project deliverables.
There was no means of communication that was overlooked, and as many as possible were used. An aggressive digital and social media campaign was a clear first option. This would mean developing a website with which LKC could host all the information available.
Weekly updates, event calendars, weekly construction schedule, live webcams, merchant profiles, and public information regarding construction plans were all made available on the website.
A contact page for email or calling with concerns or questions was also made available. The website was also as much about promoting downtown, its offerings and making sure the public knew it was open for business, as it was providing useful construction related information.
Billboards, project brochures labeled as Survival Guides, digital message boards, and yard signs helped spread the short but influential message that Concord was “Making way for a new Main Street. Business are open and parking is available.”
The results of LKC’s work through 2015 showed in both quantitative and qualitative measures. For instance, by the end of the first year the weekly newsletter had amassed 800 subscribers. Another number that stood out was 13, which was the number of new businesses that opened on Main Street despite construction in 2015.
Results that were left to pure interpretation came through surveys of businesses following construction periods. LKC gathered a wide variety of data, but overwhelmingly the majority of business owners said they were pleased with the communication and felt they always knew what was going on. Furthermore, the majority of businesses felt that their business had not suffered to a point that was concerning to the overall health of the business.
With the project finished on time and on budget, attitudes in the downtown area towards the project were positive. Many who were unsure of its impact and questioned its necessity, had come around by the completion of North Main Street. When asked what message should be passed on to the merchants of South Main Street that would see construction in 2016, the one consistent piece of advice was, “Be patient. It will all be worth it.”