Concord may have been the first battleground of the American Revolution, but this week it became the last of its neighbors to sign on to a multi-town deal to celebrate the war’s 250th anniversary.
The Select Board voted to join the Battle Road communities of Arlington, Lexington and Lincoln in a four-way pact to hire a consulting team to manage events, marketing and public relations. The contract sets Concord as the lead municipality, with each town contributing $50,000.
“We here in Concord are the only holdout,” Concord250 Vice Chair Robert Munro told the board Monday night during an extensive update on preparations for the 2025 commemoration of the Revolution’s start.
“To the extent that I can stress the significance of this board acting on this as soon as possible, I can’t underscore that enough,” he said. “The other towns are waiting for our action and really need us to push this forward.”
Diane Proctor, who’s in charge of Concord250’s publicity and communications, rose to tell the board that “$50,000 actually saves the town money, because if we had to do all this on our own, it would cost us a great deal.”
While voting on the deal hadn’t been on Monday’s agenda, several board members agreed there was no need to hold it up. Clerk Mary Hartman made the motion.
“It seems to me that as the lead community, we have a responsibility,” said Board member Mark Howell. “I’m mystified that we weren’t the first community to approve that.”
The board ultimately voted 5-0 to sign.
Dane announced he’d step back as chair of the 250 Executive Committee in September, making way for Munro and new Chair Gary Clayton. Asked after the meeting about Monday’s unscheduled vote for the intermunicipal agreement, Hartman said Dane had attempted to delay it.
Dane, for his part, said Tuesday that he’d opposed the IMA when he was chair of 250 and voted for it Monday with misgivings. He called the time and effort spent on drafting the agreement and choosing a consultant “an excuse to put off the necessary work” of local organizers.
“Since the current leaders of the Committee overwhelmingly favored going forward with the IMA, I thought a negative vote on my part would be seen as obstructive,” he said. “That was probably a mistake.”
A big event with a cost
Monday evening’s runthrough on planning for the big celebration, which could draw well over 100,000 spectators to Concord on April 19, 2025, included a preliminary budget showing $700,000 available for the celebration — with $1.25 million more still needed.
The majority of the funding is for public safety. As of the preliminary budget, $250,000 was available for safety, with a request for another $500,000 expected to appear on the 2024 Town Meeting warrant.
Dane, who, along with others, has appealed to the state for funding on Concord’s behalf, said he believed the overtures had been well received but cautioned “you never know what the legislature’s going to do — and more importantly, you never know when they’re going to do it.”
Additional options to help offset the cost of the massive celebration include grants, donations and sales of commemorative items, such as souvenir coins.
Amid preparation for a major parade, tree plantings, a permanent memorial and more, Fred Ryan, the former Arlington police chief who heads Concord250’s public safety arm, said a regional team is developing a plan to protect the throngs from chemical, biological, radiological and explosive threats — but also for handling bad weather alerts, lost kids, and “all the other incidents that might occur when we have major, complex events such as this one.”
Plus, he said, “We also don’t know what the political climate will be, and we need to be prepared for protestors [and] counter-protestors,” protecting their constitutional rights while “ensuring [the] safety and security of the folks that are celebrating.”
Ryan noted this all takes place against a backdrop of a calendar that has major resources already lined up for the Boston Marathon just two days later. He said reinforcements might have to be brought in from elsewhere in the region, particularly considering Concord must maintain its usual police, fire and EMS service.
Reviewing the rundown of proposed 250 observances, many more of which are focused on diversity than past celebrations, Dane also urged planners to keep the events at the North Bridge the focal point of commemoration: “There is no question that there should be inclusion, but it’s a matter of emphasis,” he said, stressing that the opening salvos of the war “should not only not be forgotten, but they should be the heart of the celebration, rather than the tail of the dog.”
Replied Munro, “I think to the extent that we are looking backwards and celebrating the events of April 19th, 1775, this is an awesome moment for the town of Concord to look forward [and] use those events to springboard the fact that we are in many ways the birthplace of democracy in this country … We are not trying to water down that narrative — rather, to expand that narrative.”