By Steve Dunfey

Seacoast Scene, Wednesday, June 3, 2009

[The following article is courtesy of the Seacoast Scene.]

John Nyhan

Hampton Beach has a future. Just what kind of future is largely up to the Hampton Beach Area Commission. Created by the New Hampshire Legislature in 2003, this nine member body is charged with executing the Hampton Beach master plan and initiating projects that will increase Hampton Beach’s desirability and year round potential.

Under the leadership of Hampton resident John Nyhan, the Commission is partnering with other public and private entities to transform the Hampton Beach experience. The Commission’s most important objective is the updating of the state facilities at the beach including the Seashell Complex. which was built in 1962. Other facilities include the South Beach Visitor’s Center, the Haverhill Street Bathhouse and the Marine Memorial Bathhouse. The State senate and House have approved spending $14.5 million for these improvements in what Nyhan calls “a major mile-stone.” In 2007, $175 million was spent at Hampton Beach. so the stakes are high and could be higher.

Some of the directives the Legislature has given the Commission include, “consulting and advising the state and the town on implementation strategies for the Hampton Beach master plan.” The commission can also, “assist in the promotion, periodic review and recommendation of updates of the Hampton Beach master plan.” The Commission can “assist the state and town in acquiring lands and rights in lands, to ensure consistent management.” The Commission may also, “assist the town to develop building and zoning code language and design review guidelines and procedures for the plan area.” The Commission may, “provide advice and counsel to the state and the town on proposed land use developments and capital projects for consistency with the plan.” The Commission can also, “consult with Hampton Beach area businesses and residents to promote the plan.” Finally. “the Commission must meet annually with the selectman and beach commissioners and publish an annual report.”

The membership of the commission consists of 9 members. Two are appointed by the Hampton Board of Selectmen. Another two are appointed by the Commissioners of the Hampton Beach Village Precinct. One member is appointed by the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors. Another one is appointed by the board of directors of the Rockingham Regional Planning Commission. Three other members serve by virtue of the office they hold. They include the Commissioner of the State Department of Resources and Economic Development or designee, the Commissioner of the Department of Transportation (or designee) and the Director of the Office of Energy and planning (or designee).

The commission elects its own officers. John Nyhan was appointed to the board in April of 2008 and was elected Chair in October, 2008. Nyhan notes that the Commission membership will soon change through the efforts of State Representative Nancy Stiles. “The state office of Energy and planning no longer wished to serve on the Commission,” says Nyhan. “So that representative will be replaced by a “commissioner-at-large” that would have the expertise we are looking for. We will be publicly posting the position and make the appointment in the fall”. In addition. the three year terms that commissioners serve will be staggered to insure the continuation of knowledge on the board.”

Asked about his quick rise to leading the commission, Nyhan says, “I am a utility player, willing to work hard. Since October, the commission has taken off on a number of beach related issues that we have tackled. We found that the number one priority was the rehabilitation of the state park facilities, an eighteen million dollar project. We are the cheerleaders for that. We need to have a statewide campaign. We spent a lot of time with the Legislature, letters to representatives, a lot of unpaid lobbying. That gave us our first success with the $14.5 million now budgeted by the House and Senate.”

“We dd this with the help of our legislative delegation which has three Republicans and two Democrats,” says Nyhan.” Executive Councilor Bev Hollingworth, who used to be a beach business owner, was very helpful. So was our State Senator Martha Fuller Clark and our “adopted” State Senator, Maggie Hassan. It was a political machine. That includes the town, the Chamber and most importantly, the business community. We have had many meetings with the Governor. We sold the project as a boost for more jobs for the state. The Governor will likely support the $14.5 million appropriation.”

Nyhan notes that the Commission hired economist Lawrence Goss to study the impact of new state facilities on the beach. “He predicted a 20% rise in tourism on the beach with these improvements,” says Nyhan. “This gave us the ammunition to convince people of a return on the investment. But this increase also means we may need more parking. So we have a study to see how much parking we may need. We have obtained a $20,000 grant from the Department of Transportation and Rockingham Planning Commission to study the parking issue. This will update the traffic plan. The study will look at public and private parking to see if there are any other issues. Items like signage could be an issue.”

“If we need more parking there are some possible options that are remote from the beach,” says Nyhan. “Route 1 may be reconstructed where the beach exit to 101 is currently. It might be possible to do a park and ride type of lot there. Some time ago there was talk about a monorail to bring visitors from this area. That might be another option.”

Nyhan says that the Commission will also be working on the “formalization of re-development zoning guidelines. Although we do not have the power to enforce zoning laws, we can help and issue guidelines with building permits and educate developers. We want more of a main street look. This requires a lot of discussion. We will listen. Our goal is to critique and recommend. We will act as a facilitator. To be successful you need an economic base. The Old Salt lot on Ocean Boulevard is still empty after many years. We can bring economic development to the beach. If the state makes its improvements, more investors will come in. The town floated a 12 million dollar bond to make infrastructure improvements. The Hampton Beach Village Precinct bought some street lighting. So the state can help out now. No one opposes that project. We got everybody involved year round. This is all volunteer so we are interested in creating new partnerships.”

Nyhan points out that there are other projects that are aimed at making Hampton Beach a year round destination. One project in particular is the proposed Earth, Sea and Space Center. The center’s backers are looking at Hampton Beach for their location, most specifically, the Hampton Beach State Park at the southern end of Ocean Boulevard. The project would require state approval and the raising of somewhere between 17 and 25 million dollars. The state makes about $250,000 in parking fees at the state park and Center’s backers say that the state could get a share in tickets sold that could reach $900,000. Nyhan believes the Commission can facilitate a discussion of the project to see whether it fits into “the big picture and the master plan.”

Nyhan is well suited to the task given to him. He is a human resource consultant and has been in that field for more than 30 years. He and his wife Pamela, a nurse, have three children Kristen, Michael and Jonathan. They operated the Victoria Inn in Hampton for five years. “We sold it in 2007. We tried to make it work year round. It was a great experience and we met a lot of great people. But it became a 24 hour, seven days a week proposition. Now I serve on the board of directors of the Rotary Club. I love the community and the service ethic. I am a child of the 60’s.”

Nyhan wants the public to know that the Commission is pursuing grants and accepting donations. “We want to expand economic development initiatives and work on existing and new partnerships which will expand our relationship with the town, village district, businesses along the beach, the chamber and also state and federal agencies.”