Hatteras village has had some promising developments recently after years of efforts to get back to business following 2016’s Hurricane Matthew. The 152-year-old Red & White reopened to the public after a long winter of remaining closed, the Hatteras Village Pathways Referendum passed in the May primary ballot, paving the way for new walkways to be installed in the village, and the new passenger ferry, (though delayed), is still anticipating a spring 2019 launch.
And there may be more developments to come in this slow but steady revitalization of Hatteras village, specifically in the northern corner of the village in the vicinity of the Sea Gull Motel.
Sumit Gupta is the Chief Executive Officer, Co-Founder, and Principle Partner of SAGA Construction, Inc., which purchased the Sea Gull Motel property in the spring of 2016. The motel, which was built in 1955 but which was hit hard and reduced in size by 2003’s Hurricane Isabel, still welcomes longtime visitors, but plans are in the works to potentially transform the property into something new.
SAGA has had a longstanding relationship with Hatteras village, partnering in different arenas with the Hatteras Island Ocean Center, which is located almost directly across the street from the Sea Gull Motel.
“We have a number of different relationships with SAGA,” says Eric Kaplan of the Hatteras Island Ocean Center. “On the nonprofit level, SAGA has made very generous donations to the foundation for the last few years, which helps us cover our operating costs.”
“Basically, in SAGA, we found a really good partner that wants to do something great for the community, and we can see that relationship lasting well into the future,” he adds. “They will be able to move forward and do something special in the area.”
The Hatteras Island Ocean Center currently owns the oceanfront property that’s right next to the Sea Gull Motel, but the purchase was never a for-profit venture.
“When the Ocean Center bought that oceanfront property, we were safeguarding it,” says Kaplan. “It was about to become three rental homes, but Hatteras village needed something to move the community forward – a pier, a park, whatever – so we saw it as becoming a steward of the property.”
The conversation of what to do in northern Hatteras village has gone on for a number of years. The idea of a potential oceanfront fishing pier near the Sea Gull Motel was first floated in 2012, and in recent years, there have been rumors and talk about a new motel or hotel going up in the area.
And while nothing is set in stone, and no plans or permits have been formally presented for the Sea Gull property just yet, the idea of a boutique hotel with anywhere from 50-100 rooms is slowly gaining some steam.
“Planning is underrated,” says Gupta. “Nothing has been settled at all, and we’re still just having conversations. [It’s a] a dialogue with commissioners, residents, business owners, and Eric, and we found some common goals. We’re looking into the things that will really enhance the area.”
As it stands, the Sea Gull Motel has undergone some minor renovations in the past couple of years to appeal to weekend and short-term vacationers. A number of folks interested in the project, as well as in the revitalization of Hatteras village, have pointed out that motels and short-term housing are in relatively short supply and help drive business to local restaurants and other stores and area destinations.
If a boutique hotel is proposed by SAGA, it would likely replace the current Sea Gull Motel and would have anywhere from 50 or 60 to up to 100 rooms. The approval process would hopefully start in the next several months, with development starting in the next 12-24 months after county and public feedback.
But it’s a marathon, not a sprint. And the slow process to determine the best use of the property is attributed to finding what works in Hatteras village, and what will work for the longer term – not just for a short-term profit.
“It has to be beyond what’s the best project to get a return on investment,” says Gupta. “I don’t want to force anything, because it’s not a need, it’s a desire. All of this is challenging by itself, and the last thing you want to do is create additional challenges. You need to have the [community’s] support so it’s most likely to happen.”
“If I fail, it’s a failure for the area,” he adds.
And the question of “What’s best for Hatteras?” has loomed large throughout the process of determining the best use of the roughly 5.5 acre property.
“It’s a combination of a love for the area, curiosity of the area, and long term [solutions] for the area,” says Gupta. “Hatteras Island has a lot of potential to develop things that are in harmony with the area, and we want to make sure [what we propose] will work, and will fit with the landscape.”
“There hasn’t been a new motel in Hatteras [village] in decades, but that doesn’t mean one isn’t needed,” he says. “But you have to put something in place that will work.”
Gupta also says that the idea of an oceanfront pier in Hatteras village still isn’t outside the realm of possibility just yet. An ambitious project since it was first proposed in 2012 by Eric Kaplan, there are ample challenges when it comes to constructing a new pier, but there are some obvious area-wide benefits too, especially considering the recent removal of the Frisco Pier, leaving just two piers standing on the island which are at least 15 miles away from Hatteras village.
“A pier is difficult to justify economically, but it would add another destination attraction to the area,” says Gupta. “I haven’t given up on it, but it has to be some sort of public / private partnership… and we’re beginning those conversations at this time.”
Other ideas are being floated as well, such as work-force housing, as more problem areas are being identified through conversations with the local community. But like every other project being considered for the village, it all depends on timing, long-term solutions, and what will fit in with the small and wholly distinct landscape of Hatteras village.
And for Gupta, identifying something that will help Hatteras village is what is driving the project, and is what will potentially lead to plans for a new boutique hotel in the not-so-distant future.
“Hatteras Island has unique potential, as well as unique complexities,” says Gupta. “We’re trying to find what makes sense… something you can do that is more significant than just a few houses, and [this property] gives us a canvas to explore something bigger.”
“With a little planning and creativity, we can put something in place that will work [for the area.]”
And these conversations, ideas, and tentative plans seem to follow suit with what is becoming a community-wide investment in bringing people to Hatteras village.
“This is a really important time for the village,” says Eric Kaplan. “For example, I think the decision of the village to invest in pedestrian paths is huge. It shows Hatteras village is committed to revitalizing itself. The village isn’t waiting for outsiders to do this – we’re taking the bull by the horns and being productive.”
“It’s all a work in progress, but the thinking has evolved,” says Kaplan. “With each new generation, we come up with new ideas, and a potential plan that’s a better fit for the village. We’re already doing some great things in Hatteras village, and we want to keep going, and to do more.”