Ocean Center is a new project
that would be a fishing pier – and much more
By IRENE NOLAN
all goes the way that Eric Kaplan sees it going, Hatteras Island may
have a new fishing pier in the near future.
is the driving force behind the just recently conceived Hatteras Island
Ocean Center, which would be a fishing pier for southern Hatteras
Island – and much more.
Kaplan’s idea is that the Ocean Center
would be an island-wide attraction, a place where locals and visitors
could go not only for the fishing but for other forms of recreation,
education, dining, and shopping.
In his description of the
project, Kaplan says the Hatteras Island Ocean Center would be “much
more than a replacement for the Frisco Pier,” which is in poor
condition and has not been open for several years.
It will be, he says, “a place for everybody to enjoy the ocean, play,
learn, and have fun.”
It will be a major destination for day-trippers and for folks going to
and from Ocracoke—the island’s center for ecotourism.
facilities would include a world-class fishing pier, huge oceanview
deck for weddings and parties, a food court with indoor and
oceanview dining and a coffee shop, a covered playground, an arcade,
plentiful parking, a public bathhouse, tackle shop, surf shop,
equipment rental, indoor and outdoor exhibits, classrooms, research
areas, and wildlife rehabilitation area.
Kaplan sees locals and
visitors using the area for fishing, swimming, surfing, kiteboarding,
windsurfing, standup paddleboarding, scuba diving, bird watching,
stargazing, wintertime seal and whale watching, dining, enjoying live
music, and just sitting and watching the sunrises and sunsets.
educational components, he says, will include coastal studies to
complement and enhance the program at Cape Hatteras Secondary School of
Coastal Studies, bird and marine biology, wildlife rehabilitation, and
exhibits that would highlight the island’s commercial fishing industry
and the current commercial fishing issues. And he says that there might
be satellite exhibits from the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum.
envisions quite an impressive and far-reaching project that could be
extremely economically important to all of Hatteras Island, especially
the southern villages.
It’s not just a “pie-in-the-sky” project for Kaplan.
obviously a no-nonsense person who jumps right in with both feet when
he envisions a project like this. And the vision for this project began
just three months ago.
In those months, Kaplan has formed a
non-profit corporation, The Hatteras Island Ocean Center, Inc., that is
in the process of gaining its 501(c)(3) status from the Internal
He has a board of directors that so far
includes his wife, Harriet, Tim Midgett of Midgett Realty, and Lou
Browning, a Frisco wildlife rehabilitator and business person.
Ocean Center has two pieces of property under contract in Hatteras
village. One is a 1.5 acre piece of oceanfront property where the Gen.
Mitchell Motel was located until it was destroyed in Hurricane Isabel
in 2003. The other is across the highway on the soundside of the ocean
and is where Kaplan envisions parking and such things as a septic
The property is under contract for six months and secured by a personal
loan from Kaplan to the Ocean Center.
is Kaplan’s goal to get the necessary permits for the Ocean Center from
the National Park Service, Dare County, and CAMA in the next six months
and then to focus on fundraising.
A site plan is also underway. It’s being done by Gary Price
Kaplan is working very hard to gain the support of Hatteras Island’s
business, community, and political leaders. So far, he’s had a warm
Kaplan has talked with Warren Judge, chairman of the
Dare County Board of Commissioners, and Allen Burrus of Hatteras, the
The county does not have money to contribute to the project, but it has
been well received.
would do anything I could to help it get going,” Burrus says. “I think
it would be a very positive development for Hatteras Island, and
Hatteras village, in particular….This could be huge.”
Tim Midgett, who just met Kaplan after Hurricane Irene, says he is
“most favorably impressed.”
an ambitious project, at best,” Midgett says, but he is willing to lend
his support because he also believes it could be important to the
economy of the island.
One part of Kaplan’s vision that Midgett
especially appreciates is his view that the shops, dining areas, and
other retail spaces at the Ocean Center will be leased by island
“I don’t want to create competition for island businesses. I
want to complement them,” Kaplan explains.
Midgett says he sees Kaplan as “unflappable” and “tenacious.”
doesn’t seem to back away from a challenge,” Midgett adds. “He has a
tall mountain to climb, but he doesn’t seem overwhelmed.”
Browning also hopes the Ocean Center will be an economic boost to
Hatteras, but his vision goes further – environmental education for
locals and visitors.
Browning, like the others, likes piers and
hopes folks will come for the view and to fish. But his vision, which
he says will be stage 2 or 3 of the project, will be educational
programs and seminars that focus on the unique nature of this barrier
“A lot of locals and visitors have a curiosity about the environment of
the island,” he says.
“Nature,” he adds. “That’s what we have to offer people.”
Murray, superintendent of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, has also
met with Eric Kaplan and finds the Ocean Center an “intriguing” idea
that he can fully support.
“Piers provide a very valuable
recreational opportunity,” he says, adding that the educational aspects
of the Ocean Center “complements the National Park Service mission.”
“The NPS and I support the concept,” Murray says, “but there are
details to be worked out.”
Most of those details involve what kind of a mechanism that NPS can use
to let the Ocean Center cross federal property.
So who exactly is the man with the ambitious vision of a new pier and a
major attraction on Hatteras?
Kaplan, 53, is a New York native who moved to Charlottesville, where he
started a company, Frontline Test Equipment, in 1985. About 10 years
ago, the company started working with a then relatively obscure
technology called Bluetooth.
That turned out to be a good
decision, and Kaplan eventually sold the company to his employees. He
is somewhat still involved but is transitioning out of an active role.
Selling the company has given him the time and money to do what he
really likes, and that is giving back to the community.
“I truly believe,” he says, “that if each person does their best to
make a difference, the world can be a bit better.”
And he says that without making it sound at all corny.
and Harriet Kaplan were instrumental in creating the Peabody School in
Charlottesville. The school’s mission is “to serve the needs
intellectually advanced children in one or more areas of all
backgrounds by promoting cognitive, social and emotional development
for each child at a rate commensurate with his or her ability, while
providing a foundation for students to become life-long learners.”
years ago, the Kaplans bought a lot in Frisco and had a house built by
Sound Contruction. They now spend much of their time here and have made
it another community to which they want to give back.
admits that raising the money for the Ocean Center is a large task in a
community that has not been able to complete its vision for the
Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in 20 years of trying. The
museum was taken over by the state several years ago, but is still
needs several million dollars to be finished.
Kaplan says that he thinks it will take somewhere between $5 million
and $10 million dollars to complete the Ocean Center.
aims to do it by looking for several large donors, getting smaller
grants for $50,000 to $100,000 from foundations, and contributions from
the folks who will use the pier.
He envisions the project being completed in phases.
The first phase, he said, will be the fishing pier, which won’t be as
grand as the newly opened Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head.
For one thing, the Ocean Center will be a wooden pier, not concrete
envisions it becoming self supporting when finished, and an attraction
“that will play an important economic role as Hatteras Island fully
And, he adds, the Ocean Center will complement – not replace – public
access to the seashore’s beaches.
Kaplan welcomes questions and ideas from locals and visitors.
You can reach him at [email protected].