HAMPTON, N.H. (AP) -- New Hampshire's Hampton Beach has survived years of severe weather and a number of fires. Now it's celebrating a much-needed facelift.
Beachgoers and state and town officials are cheering about $14.5 million in recently completed renovations to the beach. They include the construction of a new Seashell entertainment complex and visitors center; the overhaul of bathhouses at the north and south end of the promenade; shady spots for sitting; and an improved walkway.
There are new LED streetlights, large sail-shaped "Sunfish" lining the crosswalks along nearby Ocean Boulevard and water-spouting columns to help people wash the sand off their feet. Even the World War II memorial on the beach, a granite statue of a woman holding a wreath in honor of those lost at sea has an updated look. Construction workers extended the sea wall, circling it around the statute, to make it fit in better with the landscape.
A ceremony marking the improvements was planned Friday with speeches, music, and fireworks. An art show will take place on Saturday, along with entertainment on the Seashell stage. The Hampton Beach Historical Society also is presenting a timeline of scenes from the beach, including a look at swimsuits through the years.
In a state with only 18 miles of coastline, the 1 1/2-mile strip has been a popular spot for generations of New Englanders and tourists who don't want to put up with Cape Cod traffic.
Once a barren place used for farming hay, it transitioned into a busy area with beachwear shops, arcades and fried dough and pizza stands and motels. It has been the sight of the annual "Miss Hampton Beach" contest, a children's week, a regatta, and in recent years, a singing competition.
The beach received a national ranking several years ago as one of the cleanest.
The beachside businesses have been victims of major fires in the past, including one in February 2010, that took out an entire block of businesses. That has left some vacant spots along Ocean Boulevard, but also a desire by town officials to upgrade the look of the community.