Tourism officials predict record-breaking fall season


GILFORD — As New Hampshire's nationally renowned foliage viewing season starts, state tourism officials are predicting that the brilliant, red, yellow and flame orange hues will translate into a lot of folding green currency for Granite State businesses.
Speaking at a gathering of state officials and tourism leaders at Gunstock Mountain Resort's new mountain coaster Tuesday, Jeffrey Rose, commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development, predicted a 5 percent increase in fall visitors and a 6 percent increase in spending compared to last year.
He said New Hampshire is predicted to have 9.5 million visitors this fall with $1.42 billion in direct spending.
Rose said that the forecast for a record-breaking fall season is based on a number of a factors, including a strong economy, low gas prices and advance reservations following a strong summer. He said that Rooms and Meals Tax revenue so far this year is $300 million, up $20 million over 2015.
"Last year New Hampshire saw more than 39 million visitors, which marks a 5 percent increase over the previous year. And visitors spent $5.5 billion, a seven percent increase over 2014," said Rose, who added "The fall season is a significant contributor to New Hampshire's tourism economy."
He said that New Hampshire has a lot to offer fall visitors in addition to its fabulous foliage, including recreational opportunities, a rich history and tax-free shopping.
Lorraine Merrill, the state Commissioner of Agriculture, said that agritourism is thriving on New Hampshire farms with harvest celebrations, farm to table meals, family outings, corn mazes and weddings, as well as pick-your-own operations in orchards and fields.
"Working agriculture is a big part of tourism and provides a backdrop for visitors," she said.
Merrill said agritourism has grown from 16 farms with $265,000 in income in 2001 to 190 farms with $3.8 million in income in 2012, making it the fastest-growing part of the state's agricultural economy.
The state's Division of Travel and Tourism Development unveiled its fall campaign to bring more tourists to the state. Victoria Cimino, director of the DTTD, said that the number of foreign visitors has increased and the state is seeing more visitors from paces as far away as California, Texas and Florida.
The new campaign targets Boston, New York, Toronto and Montreal, and a Live Free strategy is being utilized which touts the state's recreational opportunities.
Amy Landers of the Lakes Region Tourism Association said that this September has been a record-breaking month in the Lakes Region. She said Gunstock enjoyed its best Labor Day weekend ever and noted that Gunstock's chairlift rides were up 30 percent over last year and that Squam Lakes area attractions are showing 25 percent increases.
Greg Goddard, general manager at Gunstock, said the new mountain coaster has had such robust sales that it will remain open through November along with other Adventure Park attractions.

09-27 tourism
Jeffrey Rose, commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development, predicted a 5 percent increase in fall visitors and a 6 percent increase in spending compared to last year at a gathering at Gunstock Mountain Resort Tuesday. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

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Lakeport Landing Marina seeks to buy Lakeport Fire Station


LACONIA — Erica Blizzard, who owns and operates Lakeport Landing Marina, has offered to purchase the Lakeport Fire Station on Elm Street, along with one abutting and another nearby lot, where the company would construct its showroom and offices.

Since 1985, Lakeport Landing has operated on an adjacent lot fronting on Union Avenue owned by the city and leased to the company under an agreement that expired on Nov. 1, 2015, when ownership reverted to the city. Blizzard sought to purchase the property, but when the City Council invited bids for the lot, Irwin Marine, which owns the abutting property, submitted the highest offer. In agreeing to sell the property to Irwin Marine, the city stipulated that that it would not be transferred for two years to allow Blizzard time to relocate her business and granted her a two-year lease, which will expire on Nov. 1, 2017.

Meanwhile, Blizzard brought suit against the city, claiming that a prior city council granted her father, the late Paul Blizzard, a right of first refusal to purchase the property when the lease expired, and that City Manager Scott Myers exceeded his authority by offering the property to competitive bidders.

The court granted Irwin Marine's petition to intervene in the litigation then ordered all three parties to seek to settle their dispute through mediation. Last month, the mediator informed the court that a "tentative settlement" had been reached and the city asked the court to stay the trial scheduled for December.

Although the terms of the settlement were not disclosed, the city said that it would require review by "the City Council, city boards and state agencies," which could take "many months, if not a year."

Mayor Ed Engler declined to comment, saying that the matter is in litigation.

This week, the City Council was presented with Blizzard's offer. She offered $127,700 for three lots, which together amount to less than an acre. The lot housing the Lakeport Fire Station is 0.32 acres, and the lot abutting it to the rear of the building is 0.195 acres. Blizzard, in her offer to the City Council, said that the company would like to preserve the fire station, but indicated that it would not be feasible to convert it to commercial uses. Instead, she proposed to demolish the fire station and construct a 10,000-square-foot building on the cleared lot. What remains of the 0.81 lot formerly leased by Lakeport Landing, a narrow strip between Union Avenue and the railroad track, would be used for parking.

The Lakeport Association has long resisted the demolition of the fire station. Blizzard agreed that if the fire station were demolished, the company would place a permanent memorial, displaying a photograph of the building with an explanation of its significance to the city, at an appropriate location on the site.

The two lots include about 132 feet of municipal right-of-way — Railroad Avenue. Blizzard would grant an easement to the city confirming its right to Railroad Avenue and, to the extent possible, make parking spaces on the north side of the street available to the general public for parking.

The council scheduled a public hearing on Blizzard's offer at its next regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 11. The first step in the process is for the council to declare the property surplus and eligible for sale.

09-28 Lakeport Landing aerial 2

The outlined area is encompasses the Lakeport Fire Station and abutting property being considered for sale to Erica Blizzard for the relocation of her Lakeport Landing Marina boat business. It is located at the corner of Elm and Union streets. (Courtesy Google Maps)

09-28 Lakeport Fire Station

The Lakeport Fire Station, as shown on the city of Laconia's website. (Courtesy photo)

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Lakeside Avenue project price goes up


LACONIA — The City Council this week began considering expanding the scope of the improvements to Lakeside Avenue at The Weirs to include burying the overhead utilities, erecting new streetlights and installing concrete sidewalks another block beyond Tower Street to Foster Avenue, all of which would add some $400,000 to the cost of the project.

In June, after agreeing to appropriate $1 million to reconstruct Lakeside Avenue, the council unanimously endorsed the recommendation of the Weirs Tax Increment Financing District Advisory Board to bury the utilities and install new streetlights. Last month, the council shelved the board's request to invest in a handful of other projects, including concrete sidewalks, stamped crosswalks and brick paving, pending refined cost estimates. In the meantime, the prospect of extending the project the extra block arose.

Wes Anderson, director of Public Works, told the council this week that if the project were confined to the stretch of Lakeside Avenue between US Route 3 and Tower Street, the projected cost of burying the utilities would be $773,493, of installing concrete wise walks would be $75,000, of adding brick accents to the sidewalks would be $89,600, of laying stamped concrete crosswalks would be $18,750 and of erecting new streetlights would be $329,065. Altogether, he estimated the total cost at $1,285,908. Anderson said that there would also be additional costs for electrical work that could approach $100,000.

Extending the same set of improvements from Tower Street to Foster Avenue would add $246,834, plus a share of the cost of electrical work, to bring the total cost of the project to more than $1,675,242, well above the initial estimate of $1,350,000. The project would be funded by borrowing against the revenue generated by the Weirs Tax Increment Financing District, 85 percent of which would be applied to service the debt for three years then 80 percent afterward until the debt is retired.

The project also includes installing parking kiosks, at a cost of $196,350 between US Route 3 and Tower Street and an additional $46,200 beyond Tower Street to Foster Avenue. Finally, the city appropriated $1 million to reconstruct and resurface Lakeside Avenue and carrying the roadwork to Foster Avenue would add another $290,000 to the cost.

Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3), who chairs the Finance Committee, proposed and the council agreed to defer any decisions, until there is an opportunity to reconsider the costs of expanding the project in the context of the city's other financial commitments.

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