Blue Ocean Society eyes beach space at Seashell

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State aims for tenant that will generate revenue


 Seacoast Sunday , March 10, 2013

[The following article is courtesy of the Seacoast Sunday and Seacoast Online.]

Hampton Beach Seashell Complex  As the state takes offers to fill its vacant retail space at the Hampton Beach Seashell Complex it faces a challenge.

The Division of Resources and Economic Development, a self-sustaining agency that doesn't get any money from the state budget, has to consider its revenue, while attempting to please beach officials who want family-friendly activities, not more retail.

A request for proposals is being drawn up, which will clarify the state's priorities for the space, said Amy Bassett of the Division of Parks and Recreation. Bassett estimated it would be two to three months after the RFP goes out before a decision is made, which would have the new tenant moving in as beach season begins.

John Nyhan, chairman of the Hampton Beach Area Commission, said the people want "something that could provide tourists with an added service or activity." He said the commission is a strong supporter of a placing some kind of nature activity in the location "that children can benefit from."

Cathy Silver, a marine biology teacher at Winnacunnet High School, and the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation, a Portsmouth-based nonprofit dedicated to protecting marine animals and their environment, previously tried to put a nature center in that location. Silver and the organization say it is a perfect spot to add an educational element and foster a culture of good environmental habits. They said they'll submit another proposal this year, as they did in 2011 when they were rejected.

Their prospects don't necessarily look better this time. Bassett said a main factor DRED is considering is finding a tenant that can bring in substantial revenue.

"One of the expectations following the investment of $14.5 million in the new facilities at Hampton Beach State Park was the generation of revenue to support the operation of the facilities as well as the parks system," Bassett wrote in an e-mail Friday. "The space where the store is located was always intended to be one of those revenue generators."

She said there's no set rent for the space, which would be determined during the bidding process and that could spell bad news for the Blue Ocean Society, which also operates a touch tank on the Isles of Shoals Steamship Co. dock in Portsmouth.

With the 2011 proposal, Silver and the Blue Ocean Society thought they were among the front-runners for the Seashell space. They had the backing of the Hampton Beach Area Commission and the SAU 21 superintendent and were disappointed to find they'd been edged out.

"The original intent of the store space was to lease the space to a bank," Bassett wrote. "However, when no banks stepped forward, the state opened the store."

She said the state favored a bank since it wouldn't compete with the retail stores on the strip and "it would be useful to somebody visiting because they could have the ATM there." But there's no shortage of ATMs on the beach, including one that generates money for the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce.

Nyhan said it's up to the community to come forward at the appropriate time to back Blue Ocean's proposal and show it will aid its efforts financially, since the society may have trouble competing with companies that stand to make more of a profit in the space.

"Being nonprofit, we certainly could not (run the center) without sponsorships and people wanting us to be there and helping us out financially," said Patty Adell of the Blue Ocean Society.

Proponents of the nature center say it would offer more than just monetary value. Adell said her organization brings "hundreds and hundreds" of people to the beach to pick up trash year round and removes "hundreds of pounds of trash."

"Having the whole new center down there — it looks beautiful and all that — but we all know the beach doesn't stay that beautiful," Adell said. "I think if we had a staff there where people could come and learn more about the hazards of littering on the beaches ...; hopefully we could change some people's minds.

Adell said Blue Ocean Society has a state-of-the-art touch tank in storage and ready to go.

Silver said the center would boost her biology curriculum at Winnacunnet High. "I expect that many of my students will want to volunteer at the center," she said.

In the meantime, Nyhan said the community must show support for a nature center, if that's what it wants. "It comes down to us," he said, "to go to Blue Ocean and say, 'How can we help you? How can we work as a community and help financially support your efforts?'"



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