FILE – In this Friday, June 1, 2012 file photo, beach goers head walk by the newly renovated Seashell entertainment complex and visitor center at Hampton Beach, N.H. The New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation is seeking a new tenant for a small retail space within the new Seashell Complex at Hampton Beach State Park. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
HAMPTON, N.H. (AP) — Sea stars and scallops, barnacles and baleen are among those competing to move into a prime bit of real estate at Hampton Beach State Park.
Besides a new performance stage, bathhouses, boardwalks and meeting spaces, the $14.5 million beach redevelopment project completed last year also included a small retail store selling New Hampshire-branded goods. But it wasn’t much of a money maker, so the state is seeking new tenants to take over the space.
The change is part of a larger effort to generate money for the state’s struggling park system, the only one in the nation that relies solely on user fees to cover its operating costs.
“We have high expectations around generating revenue, and we have high expectations around quality of service,” said Philip Bryce, director of the Division of Parks and Recreation.
Businesses or organizations interested in occupying the 430-square-foot space have until April 29 to submit proposals, which will be evaluated based on three main criteria: the strength of their operating plans, the expected revenue and the vendors’ past experiences. Applicants will present their plans to state officials in person May 2, and a decision will be made May 6. The goal is to have a contract ready for the governor’s Executive Council to approve on June 5, in time for the busy summer season.
Those interested in submitting bids also were required to attend one of two tours of the property. The first tour, held Thursday, attracted two organizations with similar visions: Explore the Ocean World and Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation.
The former is an educational program run by Ellen Goethel of Hampton, who brings interesting marine life found by her commercial fisherman husband to schools in New Hampshire and surrounding states.
“This is something she’s wanted to do for a long time,” David Goethel said Thursday. “Hampton Beach needs more child friendly activities, and if you want to make it a family beach, you need reasons for families to come here. Any of these programs that are geared toward teaching kids — and, by extension, their parents — about the importance of the marine aquasystem seems like a natural fit.”
The nonprofit Blue Ocean Society operates a marine life “touch tank” in Portsmouth, hosts educational summer programs for kids and organizes regular beach cleanup sessions. Volunteer Coordinator Nancy Anderson said she would love the chance to bring all of that right to the beach.
“I think it will bring our mission to light to a lot more people,” she said. “I grew up in this area, and to see Hampton evolve to thinking about something like we’re doing is really huge. … To see Hampton revitalize like this is really a gift to tourists, and it gives them educational, healthy activities for kids and adults.”
Both had numerous questions about the space, including what kind of backup electricity system would be in place during a power failure.
“When the power dies, so do the critters,” Goethel said.
The details will come later, but the state plans to both charge rent and collect a percentage of the profits generated by the site, Bryce said. The contract would run for three years and could be awarded to either a seasonal or year-round entity, he said.
“The state’s been trying to take the lead in extending the season out there, so if they came forward with that option, we’d certainly be willing to entertain that.”
Hampton Beach, along New Hampshire’s 17-mile coastline, attracts about 1.8 million visitors who spend $175 million a year, according to an economic study completed in 2008 as the redevelopment project began. More than half come in the summer, swelling the small town’s population, and the recent improvements are expected to increase the total visitation by 15 percent and spending by 20 percent within 10 years.
B.J. Noel, president of the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce, said he thinks an educational organization would be a good tenant because he doesn’t want to see a retail outlet that would directly compete with nearby businesses, which include an arcade, theater, beach apparel and trinket shops and a row of takeout food shops selling pizza, Italian sausage and fried dough.
Nearly all were still closed for the season Thursday, except for the Coffee Cann Cafe directly across from the empty retail space. Manager Jeremy Hashem said he has enjoyed seeing tourists visit the new state park facilities and would welcome any business or organization that moves in across the street.
“The more the merrier,” he said.