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Residents Push for Tupper Boathouse In North Sea To Become A Marine Center And Museum

Near Conscience Point, the historic location where the first English settlers arrived in Southampton, sits a boarded-up building with paint peeling off its large, white doors, and brown patches filling most of the roof’s uneven surface. North Sea residents have recently presented a plan to the Southampton Town Board to transform this structure on North Sea Road, known locally as the Tupper Boathouse, into an educational maritime center for the community. North Sea residents Ann Reisman and Mark Matthews are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the committee pushing the project, formally labeled the “North Sea Maritime Center Located At The Historical Tupper Boathouse.” The committee’s proposed $2.5 million maritime center calls for educational and recreational programs to increase awareness and relevance of historical and contemporary marine activities—which would be highlighted by a wooden boat-building component in the main two-story area of the structure. Other elements of the proposed center include a museum with artifacts provided by the Southampton Historical Museum, an aquaculture facility to promote local shellfish initiatives, a gallery and lecture room for community meetings, and several exhibits and classrooms. The long porch that runs along the back of the building would be removed as part of the proposed plans, to allow space for boats to once again be built inside the structure. “We want to provide a historical outlet so people could find out about how cool this area really is,” Mr. Matthews said. “A lot of people simply do not know.” The 3.9-acre parcel, which now houses the boarded-up boathouse on North Sea Harbor, at one time provided boat owners access to the waters of Peconic Bay. Before the building’s construction, the area was an early port area and a place for the first expansion of the settlement in the 1650s, according to a 2013 report completed by the Southampton Town Landmarks and Historic Districts Board. The boathouse itself was built in the early 1930s and was operated by Edwin “Ned” Tupper until it was sold in 1959. According to the report, during that period, inside the Tupper Boathouse wooden boats were constructed, sold, stored and repaired for Southampton Town’s large commercial and recreational marine economy at the time. After 1960, the building was used mainly for a number of dining and entertainment establishments. In 2001, it housed a nightclub, Conscience Point, which was made infamous as the site where wealthy Manhattan socialite Lizzie Grubman, apparently angered by a bouncer’s insistence that she move her SUV, backed up her vehicle at high speed into a crowd waiting to get into the club. The event sent 16 to the hospital and led to Ms. Grubman serving 47 days in prison. “Let’s just say, it shouldn’t have been a nightclub,” Ms. Reisman said. The incident led to the final closing of the structure as an entertainment venue. It was later purchased by the town for $3.1 million in 2003, with the original intent of tearing down the boathouse. After the historical nature of the structure was revealed in 2015, it was designated a landmark by the town. Now, Southampton Town officials are actively looking into officially including the property in its Community Preservation Fund plans, under historic places, allowing the town to use CPF revenues to complete the repairs necessary to transform the structure into a maritime center for the community. An outline from the Tupper Boathouse restoration committee notes that the center could be used to teach local maritime history, water navigation, sailing, boating safety, basic boat maintenance, as well as a place where Southampton schools and other educational institutes could have field experiences, host marine related programs and events, and offer workshops. So far, the plans seem to have support from the Town Board and the town’s CPF Department, although logistical questions about what programs can be held at the center under CPF guidelines are still being worked out, according to Town Board member John Bouvier. He noted that, moving forward, he would like to see more of this type of plan for properties acquired through the CPF to prevent “zombie” properties in the municipality—lots acquired and preserved, but left vacant. In November, the town approved $22,325 worth of soil tests to see whether the Tupper Boathouse could be lifted slightly, a project that would cost approximately $800,000, Mr. Bouvier estimated at the time. Raising the structure was later deemed possible and would be required to complete the additional estimated $2.5 million in repairs for the entire proposed project, according to Mr. Matthews. “A significant amount of what we need to do to this building to get it ready for use could be allocated from CPF money,” Mr. Matthews said. Although it is unclear exactly how much the fund would contribute for the project, Mr. Matthews said any shortfall could be met through a possible partnership with Hampton Bays-based Gardiner Foundation, as well as community fundraisers. To do this, the committee is working to become a licensed not-for-profit organization, Ms. Reisman noted. “There’s a lot of quiet goodwill that’s creating a real surge in getting this along,” Mr. Matthews said. “I think the community will come on board more and more and help us raise any shortfall we have,” Ms. Reisman added. Mr. Matthews said he hopes the lifting of the boathouse can be completed this year, and the rest of the project could be completed in 2018. “In the end, we will all live next door to a beautiful community structure—that will be our pay,” Ms. Reisman said, laughing. “That’s enough,” Mr. Matthews agreed, looking up at the boathouse.

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