Sea Change at the Sea Camps
The big purchase accomplished, now what?
To see a town become exuberant, coalescing around a big, expensive, ambitious project, is a beautiful, rare thing – especially when no one knows exactly what shape the project will take.
So it is in Brewster right now as the public assumed ownership of the Cape Cod Sea Camps Thanksgiving weekend, shelling out $26 million with near-universal agreement that this is a once-in-a-lifetime investment in the community, the environment, the future.
Blustery, wet weather on a Saturday in December didn’t stop 600 people from showing up at the 55-acre parcel that rolls from Route 6A to Cape Cod Bay, taking staggered tours, focusing on the more valuable and intriguing of two tracts bought simultaneously (though 65 acres, with plenty of frontage on Long Pond, ain’t a bad second fiddle).
In soggy fall gloom, the rolling land of open fields and wooded dells, freshwater pond and 800 feet of saltwater beach presented Scottish, evocative to the point of iconic.
The physical structures also were inspiring; 90 in all, 35 summer bungalows, a handful of year-round homes, a handsome winterized arts center covering 2000 square feet, a massive dining hall that served 300 people at a time, nine tennis courts, an outdoor swimming pool in good shape, boat houses with big doors to handle the camp’s sailing fleet — and the epicenter, a sprawling main building that epitomizes a sense of elegant old Cape Cod (built around the same time President Taft showed up to dedicate the Provincetown Monument in 1910).
“Congratulations on becoming beachfront property owners,” exulted Robert Tabias, one of many tour guides, speaking to Brewsterites assembled in a staid parlor room.
An unconventional “boat house,” and a conventional cottage
On tour, I saw no more than a single piece of punky window needing attention, while solar panels over a well-shingled roof spoke of investment and forward thinking even more than the well-maintained exteriors. Headaches of upkeep — and there will be many — now are the town’s, but the starting point is extraordinarily good.
This begs the question, What now?
Different ideas kept popping up as the tours progressed:
Rec activities for kids of all ages? An arts and events center? Year-round affordable housing? A public meeting space and offices in the main house? Summer rental income? A YMCA? Build a structure and enclose the swimming pool for year-round laps? Strict watershed protections? A sculpture garden?
For starters, how about a competition for ideas on what this now-public space should be called?
Inside a dining hall that hosted hundreds of meals per summer day
The strength here is that the term “mutually exclusive” doesn’t apply, given the variety of opportunities and diversity of assets, though when it comes to priorities, Brewster’s Selectboard Chair Cindy Bingham was clear:
“I don’t see us getting past next summer without being able to get to the beach,” she smiled.
Spending $26 million was the toughest first hurdle, but now comes a repetitive, challenging course. The town needs to exercise good due process on the way to good decisions, otherwise divisive rancor will creep in.
A public call after the New Year will solicit participation in the ever-necessary decision-making committees. Engagement and suggestions will be gathered through early spring, with a professional facilitator hired to make sure people are heard – or at least the structure encourages that.
The town already is thinking about additional staff support at the Department of Public Works; new equipment also will be needed.
What about a budget, and how will that define how much revenue the property needs to generate? Is the town willing to subsidize this asset? Is the goal to break even? Cash flow positive?
Two members of the Brewster Selectboard, Kari Hoffmann and David Whitney, helped organize tours of new owners
These are devilish details, but few projects could better justify and gratify this kind of public effort. Brewster’s relatively new town administrator Peter Lombardi understands this, to judge from his comment to Selectboard Chair Bingham soon after the overwhelming vote to purchase:
“I guess I know what I’m going to be doing for the next 15 years!”
Hope he’s right.
NEXT: THIS YEAR’S GIFTS UNWRAPPED, THINKING ABOUT CAPE COD’S GIFTS TO THE WORLD.
Haven’t subscribed yet? Here’s how to keep seeing a Voice: