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By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Friday, May 7, 2010

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

The owner of the Surf Motel makes comments during the Hampton Beach Area Commision’s economic development summit held at Ashworth Hotel in Hampton Beach on May 5, 2010.
[Scott Yates photo].

HAMPTON — Finance trouble and a short selling season were cited Wednesday when more than 50 public- and private-sector representatives gathered to discuss what can be done to help the business community at Hampton Beach.

John Nyhan, chairman of the Hampton Beach Area Commission, said the goal of the meeting was to help businesses rebuild and renovate existing properties and to look for investors to fill vacant lots and buy properties on the market.

After three hours of discussion, several common themes arose as to what is hindering such action, and there was a start of discussion of what can be done about it.

Ray Blondeau, owner of the Happy Hampton Arcade, one of the business destroyed in a fire Feb. 25, said he wants to rebuild but financing is a huge issue.

He said he would like to replicate his other arcade business in Peabody, Mass., called Bonkers, but finding financing has been an issue.

“I’m willing to do it, but it will take a lot of money and no one out there is loaning money,” Blondeau said.

John McKeon, who owned the Surf Hotel, which was destroyed in the same fire, suggested low-interest financing and less-restrictive zoning for businesses.

“In many ways, Hampton Beach is a success,” he said. “Let’s recognize what is working, protect it and build upon it.”

John Grandmaison, one of the owners of the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, said the short summer season is a deterrent for investors.

“It’s hard to justify it with the return of investment,” Grandmaison said. “If we have a more viable, longer season, investment will follow.”

Selectman Richard Nichols said the town wants to do anything it can to help the business community, including offering tax incentives to businesses at the beach.

But to offer tax incentives, Nichols said, voters of the town would need to adopt the provisions of Chapter 79E, which allows towns to offer a community revitalization tax-relief incentive.

If a town adopts the legislation, a property owner who wants to substantially rehabilitate a building in a downtown or village center may apply for temporary tax relief to the local governing body if they meet the requirements of the statute.

“It wouldn’t be a panacea, but it falls into the category of every little bit helps,” Nichols said.

Other financing ideas included state and federal grant programs.

“There are plenty of grant opportunities and the town has been willing to sponsor grant applications,” Town Manager Fred Welch said.

Several bank representatives said extending the season at the beach would make it a better investment.

Skip Windemiller, owner of the Oceanside Inn, said to do that, the beach needs a major attraction.

“We need to think out of the box,” Windemiller said. “One of the things I hear all the time is that this is a honky tonk beach. It’s not honky tonk; it’s Americana.”

Other items brought up during the summit were a lack of parking and zoning.

The Hampton Beach Area Commission is working on a parking study in conjunction with the Rockingham Planning Commission.

As for zoning, officials agreed that needs to be addressed.

Resident Skip Webb pointed out vacant pieces of property in the area and suggested that Hampton Beach follow the lead of communities such Greenwich, Conn., in targeting specific businesses to open and creating a uniform look for them.

The idea for the summit came after the Feb. 26 fire that leveled a block of businesses, including the Surf Motel, Happy Hampton Arcade and Mrs. Mitchell’s gift shop.

While parts of the beach are getting a remake with the state pouring $14.5 million to construct two bathhouses and a new Seashell Stage complex, Nyhan said the business community needs to reinvent too.

“This isn’t going to solve all of Hampton Beach’s problems overnight,” Nyhan said. “But it’s a step in the right direction.”

Hampton resident Ed MacDonald makes comments during the Hampton Beach Area Commission’s economic development summit held at Ashworth by the Sea Hotel in Hampton Beach on May 5.
[Scott Yates photo]

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