New Owner: Casino Needs 'Enhancement,' Not 'Change'
When pizza, hospitality and real estate magnate Sal Lupoli decided to purchase and convert the mill buildings that now encompass the Riverwalk campus in Lawrence, Mass., he saw both an opportunity to grow a struggling area as well as enrich what already existed there.
There has been much speculation about what Lupoli plans to do to the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom and the numerous other businesses that encompass the Casino complex since he purchased the property earlier this year. Lupoli made it clear Tuesday, though, during his first meeting with local officials and businesses that widespread, massive change isn't his vision for Hampton, just like it wasn't his end goal for Lawrence.
"We could've completely changed it," said Lupoli, 45, speaking of the mills that now house the thriving, multimillion-dollar Riverwalk project. "It actually would've been less money to remove the smokestacks than to keep them, but that was the beacon I was looking for. This is the beacon of Hampton Beach. It wouldn't exist without the Casino. This is about how we enhance that, not alter it.
“There have been all kinds of speculation. I’m here to tell you no definite plans have been discussed.”
Lupoli spoke with roughly three dozen town, beach, state and public safety officials Tuesday morning at the Ashworth By The Sea Hotel as part of a meeting orchestrated with the help of Joyce Grandmaison, one of the previous co-owners of the Casino complex, to begin conversations about the future of the property.
Among the individuals in attendance were Hampton Town Manager Fred Welch, Hampton Beach Area Commission Chairman John Nyhan, N.H. Division of Parks and Recreation Director and soon-to-be Department of Resources and Economic Development Interim Commissioner Phil Bryce, Hampton Fire Chief Chris Silver, Hampton Public Works Director Keith Noyes, Hampton Planning Board member and beach business owner Tom McGuirk, and many more.
Many said they came away with favorable impressions of Lupoli and his plans, which they said is especially important because they were hesitant because Lupoli was unavailable to Hampton residents for the past seven months — something Lupoli admitted was due to school, family and other matters.
“We welcome the chance for this project to make Hampton more one – you know, the town and the beach — and I think this is a really good step,” said Rick Griffin, chairman of the Hampton Board of Selectmen, who added that Lupoli’s redevelopment will help further Hampton Beach’s retransformation into a family-oriented destination.
Many officials asked Lupoli about how his plans, which Lupoli claims will emphasize social projects in addition to the economic growth, will tie into the ongoing mission to extend the beach season and make Hampton Beach a year-round attraction.
Lupoli said he isn’t looking to compete with any existing businesses around the Casino or displace current owners or employees, and he said having a strong focus on this will help make the beach as a whole more of a destination. Lupoli used Riverwalk as well as his revitalization work near the harbor in Boston, Mass., as proven examples of this approach.
Riverwalk, which Lupoli said was the “blight” of Lawrence and was built in the poorest area of the poorest Massachusetts town, has become a go-to destination for new restaurants and that 40 percent of the 3,500 new jobs created on the campus since 2004 have gone to local individuals. Riverwalk now comprises $35 million of Lawrence’s $100 million tax base, according to 2010 figures, compared to when it comprised only between $2 and $3 million of the $90 million base in 2003.
This was done while working closely with town and state officials on zoning, social and economic needs, and Lupoli said he plans to take that same approach without forcing out any businesses. He said he will favorably relocate any businesses displaced by his Casino complex enhancements, and will look to neighboring businesses and blocks to see if they would be interested in developing mutually-beneficial properties.
“I’m not giving up one job,” said Lupoli. “I’m showing you this because I think this is a wonderful opportunity like what is happening up on Hampton Beach.”
Lupoli to date has made about $500,000 worth of improvements to the Casino complex, including the full replacement of the back stairs, a fresh coat of paint and a partnership in giving the Whale’s Tale new life. Lupoli also helped bring in the Coffee Cann Café to replace Dunkin’ Donuts, which elected to leave the facility.
He said he plans to remove the kiosks in the front of the complex in order to “open up” the Casino to pedestrians and make it more “inviting,” and he said he plans to do similar work to the second story. Any businesses displaced by the work will be relocated to other portions of the property, said Lupoli.
Lupoli said the next steps are to pick an architect for some of that work, as well as continue the dialogue and meetings with local residents, officials and business owners about what should be done with the property as a whole.
There is no firm timeline for this work, and Lupoli said it would likely take more than five years to fully develop and grow the area into a mutually-beneficial entity.
"This is going to be a slow, methodical process," said Lupoli, who said he’ll perform a major facelift or alteration if that is what the majority of the community desires. "I look at my business as a marathon. This is not a sprint... This is not happening overnight."
By Kyle Stucker· October 9, 2012· Hampton - North Hampton Patch · Original Article