, Newburyport, MA

March 28, 2014

Salisbury Beach a good bet for state money

Newburyport Daily News

---- — Salisbury Beach’s commercial center has been struggling to find its new direction for a long time. It is encouraging to see that a new effort is underway, one that has solid local support and some serious interest from state officials.

Earlier this week, state Housing and Economic Development Secretary Greg Bialecki and Energy and Environmental Secretary Richard Sullivan visited the beach to hear for themselves about a plan being primarily championed by Wayne Capolupo. Capolupo has made substantial investments in his hometown beach, and like his fellow beach property owners, he sees great potential.

The idea Capolupo and others are proposing would tear down almost all of Salisbury Beach Center and replace it with more attractive, year-round housing and businesses. Ultimately, several new and architecturally cohesive five-story buildings would include 750 residential condos with ground-floor commercial/retail space. It would completely replace the hodgepodge of buildings that line the beach center’s main streets.

The state would be a player in the development. It owns the beach itself, and it is being asked to invest about $5 million to build a beachfront boardwalk, a 500-foot-long pier, a comfort station and other amenities to make the area more attractive to investment.

We were glad to see that both Bialecki and Sullivan had some interest in the plan, though they noted that as Gov. Patrick’s administration enters its lame-duck days, they won’t be around much longer to shepherd the project along.

Capolupo and other project enthusiasts are hoping that a single, well-financed developer will do the entire project, at a cost of perhaps $150 million. The state officials asked that they attempt to find this developer in 60 days as a good-faith gesture. It seems like an unreasonably short time frame to line up such a well-heeled developer, but the push is on.

Taking a glance a little farther up the coast at Hampton Beach, it’s clear that public investment in public waterfronts is a sound idea. New Hampshire has spent $15 million on Hampton Beach, dramatically upscaling its public facilities and its desirability. It’s an impressive project, but we think Massachusetts can do a better job, and for less money.

A big part of the reason is simple geography.

The local seacoast is shaped somewhat like a shallow letter “C,” with Cape Ann at the southern extremity and Hampton’s Boar’s Head at the northern end. This shape offers us a uniquely long view of the coastline, and Salisbury Beach has the enviable spot — it is the only place along that 25 miles of coast with a substantial commercial zone built directly on the beach.

Anyone who has been to Capolupo’s Seaglass restaurant can plainly see this. Seaglass, which sits out over the beach and surf, has arguably the most dramatic and extensive views of our local seacoast of any commercial building from Rockport to Hampton. Add to that scene a 500-foot pier, a more attractive and user-friendly waterfront boardwalk, and Salisbury Beach immediately vaults to the front of desirability. Salisbury Beach already has the most accessible public beachfront in the region, with a public beach that is miles longer than Hampton Beach. It also has a very popular state park, far larger and more desirable than Hampton Beach’s state park. What it lacks is a vibrant, modernized and cohesive commercial center.

Our state would be making a smart investment by looking at the potential of Salisbury Beach. We’re encouraged by this week’s visit by the two secretaries, and we hope this begins to blossom.