Surf House is up: Old Colony Motel transformed into new Hampton Beach resort

HAMPTON — By most accounts and news clippings, when the Colony Motel opened its doors in 1930 it quickly became known as one of the premier places to stay on Hampton Beach.

Nearly a century later, Al Fleury is hoping to recapture some of that magic this May when he opens the Surf House Resort at the site of the old motel.

Only the old sign bracket and the studs remain from the former inhabitant at 46 Ashworth Ave. which had fallen into complete disrepair in the last several years, before being scooped up by Fleury in September 2019 for $930,000.

Fleury also owns Wally’s Pub, Bernie’s Beach Bar, The Goat, and a slew of rental properties and other entities on the beach.

“We went from the tip of the sign all the way down to the foundation,” said Fleury of the massive overhaul. “We kept the footprint and we tried to keep the energy, the beach feel, and the vintage vibe and I think we did a good job there.”

Right down to the vintage lettering on the sign to match the original “Colony Motel” sign, Fleury has certainly accomplished that goal while reimagining the original footprint into a sleek and finely appointed 47-unit layout with a handful of suites, which will also boast a large pool and patio area abutting the bustling Ashworth Ave. No stranger to extreme makeovers of many a Hampton Beach property, Fleury may consider his latest endeavor one of his most challenging – and rewarding – after watching the pandemic turn a seemingly ample renovation budget of $2M upside down.

With lumber costs and delivery times tripled (on a good week), permits delayed, and manpower sparse, tackling a project of this size during the pandemic is not for the faint of heart, especially as in Fleury’s case, when most of your established revenue stream are also shut down. While Fleury would not put a number on how far he went over budget it’s safe to say he left his original $2 million allocation in the rearview mirror a long time ago.

“Try building something during COVID, it’s really fun,” Fleury noted with his tongue firmly in his cheek. “Every part of that build was difficult, but at the same time it makes me want to do well with it even more.

“Even though we were getting our butts kicked with COVID, like everyone else, we didn’t sacrifice anything,” Fleury added. “We didn’t have a large canvas to work with, but what we did do inside the template of the Colony, I think we did as well as anyone could have. Every part of that building is new.”

There are ample high-end touches like tiled bathrooms with glass shower doors and local artists were even brought in to paint murals on the stairways. The rooms are more spacious compared to what Fleury termed as the “12 by 12 cookie-cutter rooms” that are so prevalent on the beach. Utilizing a vibrant color scheme, Fleury’s designer, Courtney Brosseau, came up with a coastal California feel for the property rather than the traditional New England seaside motif.

“I love the way it came out and I love the vibe,” said Brosseau. “It’s fresh and clean and we don’t have anything like it on the beach. We’re going to use a lot of surfing artwork through local photographers. It is just going to have a real fun vibe when it is all done.”

Plans are to break ground on the final piece of the project – the large pool and patio area complete with tropical plantings – this week.

Hotel, not condos

The final product checks two meaningful boxes for Fleury. First, it contributes to his vision of revitalizing the back side of the beach with quality food, entertainment, bars and lodging and secondly, it saves another hotel from being turned into condominiums, a trend that has frustrated the entrepreneur in recent years.

“It hurts the feel of the beach and I’m convinced of that,” Fleury said. ”I know there was quite the push the last five or six years (for condo development) and the town liked it because of the taxes. I get both sides of it, but from where I sit in the hospitality industry, I watch people not have a place to stay and I think that has a long-term negative effect on the culture of the beach.

“If I’m in the financial position to scoop up (a hotel) I will just try to keep it a hotel and I hope that other people who are in the same position try to do the same,” Fleury added. “I don’t want to own all the hotels, but I want to save the hotels. I want people to have the same mindset.”

Whether that mindset includes tackling a project as ambitious as this one in the middle of a pandemic might be another story, but with the grand opening finally within his sights, Fleury sees a bright summer ahead for his latest creation and his favorite beach.

“It was scary, but we were set up right and were able to weather the storm,” said Fleury. “I couldn’t be more excited for a crazy 2021. I think it’s going to be booming and I think things are going to jump back like they never have before. I think Hampton Beach, in particular, is going to have a banner year.”