By Patrick Cronin
Herald Sunday, March 5, 2006
[The following article is courtesy of the Herald Sunday and Seacoast Online.]
Photo by Jay Reiter
HAMPTON - Some say Hampton Beach is a like a ghost town in the winter with its boarded-up shops, empty boardwalk and the only sound coming from the roar of the ocean. But if you look more closely, you'll see life at year-round businesses like Ashworth by the Sea Hotel and La Bec Rouge restaurant. You'll also see new developments like the Water's Edge Yacht Club at Hampton Harbor that are bringing year-round residents into the community.
And, officials say, it will only be a matter of time before that segment of the population increases and Hampton Beach becomes a year-round tourist destination.
Town Manager James Barrington said the key to that success is the ongoing $12 million sewer infrastructure project that is scheduled to be completed this year.
"By rebuilding the infrastructure down there, it is putting in the building blocks for our citizens who work and live down there to make more on their investments," Barrington said.
The project encompasses replacing 70-year-old sewers, drains and adding sidewalks.
The trend to year-round business at the beach has been already happening, even without the sewer project.
Eight to 10 restaurants and hotels stay open year-round, compared with a handful a couple of years ago.
While business is clearly lighter than in the summer, the beach does get its share of business this time of year. The added draw is that it's free to park at the beach during the winter.
While critics may argue that nobody wants to visit the beach in winter, Fred Schaake, owner of the Hampton Beach Casino, said if there is an attraction, the visitors will come.
The Hampton Beach Casino, which had its last show of the season in November, will be opening at the end of this month, the earliest it ever has.
"I think the day is coming that it becomes year-round," Schaake said. "The activity is there and we sell out a lot of shows."
In fact, the Casino, compared with similar-sized venues, is ranked No. 28 of the top 100 venues in the country according to ticket sales.
"It shows you what can be done here," Schaake said.
The Hampton Beach Commission, which is charged with turning the beach into a year-round tourist destination, also says it's just a matter of time. It wants to see an "anchor" attraction at the beach.
"There is no question that's our goal," said Fred Rice, commission chairman.
The group is currently attempting to get an aquarium at the beach that would be open year-round, and is working with Friends of the Earth, Sea and Space Center to achieve just that.
Schaake said a lot of the people from Merrimack Valley - Lawrence and Lowell, Mass. - who used their cottages just in summer have converted them into year-round residences.
Rice said with more people living at the beach year-round that also will bring more businesses.
"People who are moving in will demand more services in their back yard," Rice said. "They don't want to drive over to Hampton center or Seabrook to do their shopping. They want some sort of commercial support in their area. ... The pressure is mounting to make Hampton Beach a livable area and a summer resort at the same time."
While some look at the sewer project in a negative way because the installation of sidewalks is taking away parking on the lettered streets, Schaake said it's the best thing that could have happened to the beach.
"It had to be done," he said. "I agree with what they are doing. We have to get it all out of the way. The sidewalks (have) been a controversy. I don't think it was necessary, but I don't have strong opinions on that."