---- — CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A touch-tank full of sea critters is moving into a small storefront at Hampton Beach State Park.
The Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation was one of two groups vying to occupy the retail space that was included in the state’s recent $14.5 million beach redevelopment project. On Wednesday, the governor’s Executive Council approved its plans to open an education center to teach visitors about marine life, maritime history and conservation opportunities.
The arrangement 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. In addition to a new performance stage, bathhouses and boardwalks, the redevelopment project completed last year also included a small store selling New Hampshire-branded goods, but the state decided to seek a new tenant after it failed to bring in much money.
Under the three-year agreement, the group will pay the state just under $6,000 a year, plus a percentage of its income. For the first year of the contract, the group will keep all its admission fees, program fees and donations while paying the state 10 percent of its income from private, scheduled events. In the second and third years, it will pay 10 percent of its income from admission fees, plus the 10 percent from event fees.
The Blue Ocean Society currently operates a marine life touch tank in Portsmouth, hosts educational summer programs for kids and organizes regular beach cleanup sessions. Officials have said the new location will allow those activities to continue and expand, while providing tourists with a free, family-friendly attraction.
The other bidder was Explore the Ocean World, an educational program run by Ellen Goethel, of Hampton, who brings interesting marine life found by her husband, a commercial fisherman, to schools in New Hampshire and surrounding states.