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Renovation a key piece of beach revival

By Beth LaMontagne
[email protected]

YORK, Maine - This week the Planning Board put into place another piece of the revitalization of the York Beach area.

Anyone who drives through Short Sands Beach can't help but notice the Atlantic House, a dilapidated monolith across from the Goldenrod restaurant and candy shop.

Known to locals as Pop's Shell Shack, the building has been empty for a number of years and has been declared a major hazard by the town Fire Department.

On Tuesday, the board issued a conditional approval for a proposed renovation of the building.

The project calls for a complete gutting and residing of the building.

TMS Architects of Portsmouth, the same firm that designed the renovation of the Wentworth by the Sea hotel, will be doing the design work.

The project is slated to include retail shops on the ground floor, a "destination restaurant" on the second floor run by well-known Boston chef Lydia Shire, and nine condominium units on the top two floors.

There are a few obstacles left, though.

The project must obtain permits to install gas and electrical lines and, according to Town Planner Steve Burns, the Planning Board will reconsider the hours of operation for the Atlantic House restaurant on March 9.

Don Rivers, owner of Rivers by the Sea, the project's development company, said if he receives all the permits in short order, construction could begin in a month.

A former grand hotel

The Atlantic House was once one of Maine's grand hotels, with 50 "sleeping rooms," a 215-seat restaurant and ground floor shops.

The hotel is not what people would consider grand by today's standards. The rooms were small and guests had to share bathrooms.

Because the building is in poor condition, redesign presented a challenge, said lead architect John Merkle.

"Parts of it were ready to collapse," he said. "The first floor is useless ... the electrical must have gone back to the '30s."

Merkle said while he tried to keep the outside appearance almost identical to the way it was in its heyday, the inside will look completely different to those who remember Pop's Shell Shack.

The retail level will resemble a small mall, where shoppers can window-shop from both the outside and a main hallway inside, a feature aimed at providing something to do during a midsummer shower. The restaurant and lounge level will be open concept, letting diners look out over the ocean or watch the chefs create the evening meal.

To recreate the Victorian details on the exterior, the architects made a record of every little feature, down to the style of trim, cornices and columns. What can be salvaged from the old building will be reused. What needs to be replaced will be with exact replicas of the original features, said TMS project manager Shannon Alther.

Not 1,000 feet from Atlantic House, the Kearsage House is also slated for a major overhaul.

The building, owned by Harold Anderson, now houses Shelton's and Gabby Sullivan's restaurant. Also designed by TMS Architects and put forward by Rivers and Anderson, the project will create 19 condominium units above the restaurant and retail space on the ground floor.

The approval of these projects is part of a larger town push to revitalize Short Sands Beach. The York Beach Renaissance Committee has been working with town officials to create a plan not only to make the area more attractive but to increase the beach's economic potential.

Currently, the area closes down after Columbus Day.

"It's tough to find a cup of coffee in that area," said Renaissance Committee member Cathy Goodwin.

Another goal of the committee and the current projects is to make it a location residents want to go to year-round, said Goodwin.

"Having a place to gather is key to building strong communities," said Goodwin. "I think that's why it garnered so much support."

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