, Newburyport, MA

November 20, 2013

New vision of Salisbury Beach proposed

Beachfront owners present their own plan for beach center


---- — SALISBURY — For the first time in more than six years selectmen are supporting a “new vision” to redevelop Salisbury Beach Center, they termed “impressive and exciting” when they saw it Monday night.

Since 2007, town officials had supported a grand plan for the much needed rehab of the beach center proposed by Cambridge urban design firm, the Thompson Group and its real estate arm, R. E. Commerce. For years, even as the plans stagnated, Thompson’s pledge to restore Salisbury Beach Center’s to its past grandeur garnered the backing of some selectmen and Town Manager Neil Harrington.

Within the past year, however, as all Thompson’s development agreements expired with beach property owners and the economic climate for development improved, local business people gathered together to resurrect a plan that predated Thompson’s entry onto the scene.

After much secrecy, on Monday night SPS New England President and beach businesses owner Wayne Capolupo revealed his group’s “Revised Vision for Salisbury Beach.” Asking for support, they received the unanimous endorsement for it from the Board of Selectmen.

“This is very impressive,” Selectman Freeman Condon told Capolupo after he finished the presentation.

“Very exciting,” Selectman Henry Richenburg added.

“The beach needs new ideas,” Selectman Ed Hunt said. “I hope the town will support this.”

And with a motion from Selectman Don Beaulieu, the four selectmen present at the meeting were the first public officials to get on board.

Needed, however, before a shovel hits the ground, are a bevy of approvals: from the Salisbury Conservation Commission and Planning Board, perhaps from the federal Army Corps of Engineers, which controls building in the country’s waterways, as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And then there are the state agencies, including the Department of Conservation and Recreation, which owns, maintains and is very protective of, the three-plus miles of Salisbury Beach.

The “Revised Vision for Salisbury Beach”

New as compared to the Thompson Group’s proposal, the Capolupo group’s current proposal is remarkably similar to a plan proposed by beach business and property owners during their negotiations with town officials to rezone the beach center nearly a decade ago. The rezoning, known as the Beach Overlay District, was approved by Town Meeting in May 2005 in hopes of fostering redevelopment of a beach center in need for remaking.

Many of those at Monday night’s meeting supporting the new vision were the same stakeholders who helped create the former vision, including Capolupo, Rob Osinski, Jay Gallagher, and Kevin Mulcahy.

Yet, there are changes in the new plan, including elevation alterations to contend with storm and flooding issues that have plagued Salisbury Beach and its center in recent years, as well as the new FEMA flood insurance maps and federal requirements for building along the country’s storm battered seacoasts.

And there is one major difference concerning who gets to build this new vision. Previously, a number of local land owners and business people hoped to redevelop beach properties. Now, that notion has been reversed. The revised proposal seeks one “well-heeled, master developer,” Capolupo explained, with pockets deep enough to spend the millions of dollars required to put all the land in the center under agreement, then hold on for what could be years as the project goes through a multi-level permitting process.

“The last thing we want is for this area to be redeveloped in a piecemeal manner,” he said.

The private sector development plan’s intent, when finalized, will be a unified design and “won’t bear resemblance to the Salisbury Beach of its heyday,” Capolupo said. The plan is not to rebuild the hotels, Ferris wheels, merry-go-rounds, nightclubs and an entertainment venue that could attracted the Frank Sinatras of the day.

Instead, the new vision is for a condo-centered “bedroom beach,” with some commercial included in a “mixed use” manner, he said. The reasons for the change are financial and social. The goal is to change Salisbury Beach from a summertime-party-place, and to encourage a 12-month community of year-round residents that can support businesses, he said, as well as families of summer vacationers.

To recruit one master developer, Capolupo said, the new plan has to offer a host of amenities built by the public sector. Such improvements are required to entice a master developer’s huge financial commitment, and his or her belief that the development would attract not only investors and capital underwriters, Capolupo said, but ultimately people to buy the condos and open businesses there.

Public sector improvements include a newly designed boardwalk encompassing all of Ocean Front South, making the whole street a pedestrian-way that’s elevated to keep it above the wave velocity and storm flood zones.

Where the former Sidewalk Cafe once stood, there would be a “comfort station,” with a children’s playground, modern bathrooms and rinsing stations for beach-goers, and a shaded area where people, including the handicapped, can get out of the sun and enjoy viewing the beach.

Along with an enhanced version of Broadway, the new plan calls for a permanent, open-sided, oceanfront stage on a raised platform.

The one completely new option is a fishing pier that would extend about 500 feet into the ocean. Capolupo believes getting it permitted won’t be as difficult and as might be imagined, in spite of environmental restrictions, for the pier could be a joint venture with fisheries and wildlife agencies smoothing the way.

Costing millions to permit and construct, Capolupo didn’t discuss how to fund the public sector improvements Monday night.

He did say that the first phase of the private sector portion would be redeveloping the block between Ocean Front South and Railroad Avenue, except for the current condos along Railroad. The block would provide 200 residential units in a five-story, peaked-roofed structure, which would have some business condos on the ground floor facing Broadway.

“The vast majority of property owners (at the beach) are on board and have participated in this, and they said they want it to move forward,” Capolupo told selectmen. “We need to get all government players and stakeholders to reach a consensus on this vision plan. . . . (With that) I’d like to think in a couple of years we could have the amenities underway and a master developer on board.”