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By Mark Chag, Atlantic News Staff Writer

Atlantic News, Friday, July 17, 2009

[The following article is courtesy of Atlantic News]

HAMPTON BEACH — Locals and vacationers alike can rejoice — a Renaissance is coming to Hampton Beach.

Thanks to a recently-appropriated sum of nearly $20 million, in the next two years the area will be graced with monumental development projects bringing jobs, and along with it, the boldest and most elaborate transformation in the history of Hampton Beach.

What started with the design of an overall master plan as far back as early 2001 is now about to become a reality, thanks to the tireless efforts of a grassroots effort which brought the community together and will define the future of Hampton Beach as a (if not the) top tourist attraction in all of New England.

“It’s not a beach project – this is a state project,” explains John Nyhan, chairman of the Hampton Beach Area Commission, adding that while the project will benefit the beach directly, it is all of New Hampshire who will feel the positive reverberations from the development.

“An economist did a study, and what he basically found was that if the state followed through with the project, they would see a 20 percent increase in toll revenue for the state,” Nyhan says, which could result in millions of additional funding for the state each year.

State officials recently approved $14.5 million for the project, while an additional $3 million will be funneled from the Department of Transportation, for a grand total of $17.5 million for the ambitious project which will likely span two years and create more than 150 new jobs.

“There were a lot of people who just didn’t believe it would happen. This was the third highest appropriation in the state this year,” Nyhan says. “Knowing the economy the way it is, a lot of people didn’t think it would get approved.”

But it did, thanks to a combined community efforts that intertwined local residents and politicians who fought to ensure that the project got the attention it deserved and stressed the many far-reaching benefits to the region and the state.

So what’s in store? Plenty!

There are four major components to the project, which includes two modern bathhouses with shaded outdoor shelter, a South Beach Visitors Center, and at the heart of it all, an all-new Seashell Complex.

“The existing structure was built in 1961, and with the exception of the replacement of the roof, nothing has been done to the building,” Nyhan says, stressing the need for a new outdoor theater.

The designs reveal an elaborate structure with seating for more than 800 people, and architecture heralding to the classic New England seaside feel. It will be enhanced with a clock tower and sprawling promenade, conference center and lifeguard station.

The bathhouses, one planned for the Haverhill Street intersection and the other near the Marine Memorial, will not only provide much-needed public facilities, but will offer shaded space for folks to step out of the sun, storage, and even outdoor fountains spraying water for children to play in.

At the South Beach Visitors Center, locals and tourists alike can enjoy an assortment of attractions in the sprawling lobby, browse the gift shop, and even examine educational exhibits about the local wildlife. In all, the “facelift” along the Hampton Beach boardwalk will be the most elaborate undertaking that the resort hotspot has seen in its century-plus life as a premier seaside magnet for summer travelers.

So when does it all begin? Nyhan is quick to point out that the construction will be underway with utmost sensitivity to the area businesses, so as not to disrupt them during the busy summer months. Although the precise construction phase is not yet available, Nyhan says he anticipates that the two bathhouses will be built first, beginning later this year and potentially in place for the summer of 2010.

Then, tentatively, following next year’s summer season crews will return and replace the seashell complex and create the visitors center.

“Nobody opposed the project. It started with the local community coming together with town government, and went all the way to Concord,” Nyhan says. “Everybody that we talked to agreed that this was a great project. This is the biggest thing that’s happened to Hampton Beach in its history.”

Development on Hampton Beach began in the 19th century, to support public demand to be near and enjoy the waters of the New Hampshire coast. In 1897 the Hampton Beach Improvement Company began to control the direction of development through a 99-year land lease. As the beach became more popular with tourists and locals alike and with the advent of the automobile in the 1900s, the Hampton Beach Improvement Company and sources of revenue could no longer keep pace with the need to support the infrastructure and public facilities at Hampton Beach.

During the Great Depression, the State of New Hampshire stepped in to take financial control and turned the beach into a state park facility. Even with the many improvements made to enhance the recreational opportunities and safety in the park during this time, the image of the Beach began to decline as the tourism market shifted from extended vacations to day trips. The 99-year land lease expired in 1997, and the Town of Hampton and related authorities, including the state, are now stewards of the developed areas of the Beach through their decisions on land use, environmental regulations and local infrastructure.

The upcoming changes are all part of the revitalization of the “public face of Hampton Beach.” By spreading public facilities along the entire beach, the goal is to include the under-utilized north and south ends, in order to cut down on the central congestion and crowding.

Another goal for this project is to reserve prime beachfront property for functions directly related to the public’s use and enjoyment of the beach. Support functions for the State will be redirected to areas of the park in less demand for public recreation.

The final goal is to create a distinctive look for the State Park facilities at Hampton Beach. The facilities will be immediately recognizable as part of the State Park and will contribute to the fresh new appearance for Hampton Beach that the redevelopment seeks to promote.

Now, the dream will become a reality, and those who work, live at, and visit will all be able to reap the rewards of the coming Renaissance at Hampton Beach.

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