Rising from the Ashes
Beach Owners Gathering for Economic Summit
By Patrick Cronin
Hampton Union, Tuesday, May 4, 2010
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
HAMPTON -- Beach business owners hope the Economic Development Summit to be held tomorrow will be the start of a series of discussions on what can be done to help the business community along Hampton Beach.
"I hope everyone in the community gets together to work towards the common goal of betterment of Hampton Beach," said BJ "Doc" Noel, president of the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce. "The beach is the economic engine for our entire Seacoast community."
The May 5 summit, sponsored by the Hampton Beach Area Commission in conjunction with the Hampton Beach Village Precinct and the town of Hampton, will be at 2 p.m. in the ballroom of the Ashworth by the Sea at 295 Ocean Blvd.
John Nyhan, chairman of the Hampton Beach Area Commission, said the goal is to find ways to help the business community rebuild and renovate existing properties and to look for new investors to fill vacant lots and buy "for sale" properties.
"I'm hoping that we accomplish by 5 p.m. a start point of positive ideas, recommendations and most importantly action items," Nyhan said. "The Hampton Beach Area Commission is stepping up to the plate and saying that we want to work with the business community at the beach and help them anyway we can for economic growth.
"We want to come away from the summit with an action plan," Nyhan said. "We want a list of things we can do in the short term and long term.
"I don't want to be involved in another group meeting where everybody gets excited and at the end of the meeting everyone goes there own way and nothing is done."
Chuck Rage, owner of the Pelham Hotel at Hampton Beach, said he would like to see Wednesday's summit remain positive.
"We should be concentrating on the future and not what occurred in the past," Rage said.
Rage said he hopes the summit generates some fresh ideas to rejuvenate the beach.
The goal, he said, should be to find ways to help the business owners who are here and those who may be interested in investing in the beach.
"We need to see these vacant lots at the beach developed," he said.
The site of the former Old Salt that burned 10 years ago has been used for parking for the last seven years as plans to construct a 42-unit residential condominium building with ground-floor retail were put on hold, first due to litigation and now the economy.
The lot is currently for sale.
"Ideally, I would like to see more hotels at Hampton Beach," Rage said. "We need more hotels, because the more people staying at the beach the more prosperous the beach will be. We can not survive with just day trippers."
Tom McGuirk of McGuirk's Restaurant said he hopes the summit addresses the challenges business owners face at Hampton Beach.
He said the reality is the beach is not year-round.
"You basically have five months to make it," said McGuirk, who noted they pay higher property taxes as well as insurance due to the proximity to the beach.
McGuirk said numerous businesses at the beach have done a lot to improve their properties including the Boardwalk Inn and Cafe, Sea Ketch and the building that was once Guido Murphy's.
"But it's hard pressed in a down economy to find any investment at Hampton Beach — private or public," McGuirk said. "The return is questionable, mainly because of the short season and the weather."
Bob Preston of Preston Real Estate agreed.
With the short season, Preston said it's hard for someone to get financing to invest in the beach.
"We need new people, new ideas and new capital," he said.
With the state pouring $14.5 million to upgrade the state facilities at the beach, Preston said he hopes that attracts big money investors to take another look at the beach.
The idea for the summit came from the ashes of the Feb. 26 fire that leveled a block of businesses, including the Surf Motel, Happy Hampton Arcade and Mrs. Mitchell's gift shop.
While all three businesses have made a commitment to rebuild, Nyhan said the beach community must do what it can to ensure they can.
More than 50 representatives from the public and federal and state government, including executive councilor Beverly Hollingworth, were invited to the summit, which is open to the public.
Business sector representation will include lodging establishments, restaurants, entertainment venues, the real estate community, retail and the financial community.
Also in attendance will be representatives of the Community Development Finance Authority, Coastal Economic Development Corporation and the state's Economic Development Division, who will offer ideas on what can be done depending on concerns raised.
[Patrick Cronin photo]