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Weirs Pier getting wholesale do-over

Sunday News Correspondent
February 04. 2017 5:26PM
The historic Winnipesaukee Pier has been purchased by a boat sales company, which promises pier improvements by summer. (DAN SEUFERT/Sunday News Correspondent)

LACONIA - Fans of the Weirs Beach section of the city have a lot to look forward to this summer now that an ambitious buyer has purchased the historic Winnipesaukee Pier.

The new buyer, East Coast Flightcraft Inc., is planning to "upscale" the entire 14,000 square feet of business space on the pier. The pier, which has recently been home to several small businesses and a restaurant at the pier's end, jutting over Lake Winnipesaukee, will be ready for business by this summer, company officials said.

When the new owners are done with their initial "face-lift" of the pier, there will be two "upscale" restaurants, better shops along the boardwalk, and many other improvements, said Ryan Cardella, operations manager at the company.

The company is in negotiations with a famous pizza shop from Martha's Vineyard and a barbecue shop from Texas, Cardella said. And if negotiations with Dunkin' Donuts go well, the water's edge section of the pier will feature a doughnut shop, complete with drive-up access for boaters.

"We're going to make it an upscale little village," he said.

Once known as a the Winnipesaukee Pier, the structure was built in 1925, and was known for attracting big-name big bands in the 1950s. The Winnipesaukee Gardens, and its ballroom was converted in 1976 to an arcade, and a miniature golf course was built near the pier's entrance.

The pier, which was assessed at $1,642,600 in 2016, cost the company about $2 million, below the asking price of $2.6 million.

East Coast Flightcraft, one of the largest boat dealers in New England, had about $4 million in sales last year from its showroom at 177 Route 104 in Meredith, in what Cardella called "a banner year for sales."

The company's chain of stores averages more than $18 million in sales combined each year, he said.

But the purchase was not based on strong sales, he said. The company closed on the pier deal at the end of December, and began renovations and improvements. The company has already invested more than $1 million, and expects to invest about $5 million on the project in the next few years, he said.

Though the company plans to display new boats at its revamped dock area as an advertisement for its dealerships, there are no plans to build a boat showroom or store on the docks.

"We've been looking for a project like this for some time," Cardella said. "Our goal is to provide Lake Winnipesaukee boaters and visitors with a great experience on the pier."

The company plans to tear down much of the wooden structure of the pier and replace it with steel and concrete, he said. Besides the improved restaurant and shopping experience, company officials are planning a boat-rental portal, a water skiing school, and a new parking area in place of the miniature golf course.After a few years, company officials will likely revise their changes based on consumer activity, he said, and will probably add more to the pier.

"By then, we'll probably be in the tens of thousands in investment," Cardella said.

The news of the pier's sale was great news to city officials, who have been making sidewalk and street improvements in The Weirs that should also be ready by this summer.

"I think this company is going to be a great addition to Weirs Beach," said City Manager Scott Myers.



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