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A Romney win might mean a 'Summer White House' for Wolfeboro

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 21. 2011 1:29AM
Mitt Romney's summer house in Wolfeboro. Some residents are excited about the possibility of a president owning a house in the town. (PAULA TRACY / UNION LEADER)

WOLFEBORO - The prospect of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney winning the presidential election has businesses, government and Marine Patrol officials, Realtors and residents thinking about how a future 'Summer White House' could change the community.

They are making comparisons to Kennebunkport, Maine, whose business leaders said the change could be dramatic.

Romney and his wife, Ann, purchased a home on Clark Point in 1997 and have been enjoying each summer there with their five sons, the sons' spouses and 19 grandchildren.

As Romney makes a second try for the White House, and is considered among the front-runners for the Republican nomination, Kelly Gaynor, at the boutique Details on Main Street, said Wednesday that buzz abounds.

'I've heard a lot of others say business will get much better and that (Romney's election) would be great for business,' she said.

If Romney does win the White House and maintains his home in the Lakes Region, 'it will put Wolfeboro on the map' nationally and internationally, assured Jim Fitzgerald, president and chief executive officer of the Kennebunk-Kennebunkport Chamber of Commerce in Maine.

Fitzgerald said people want to be near and associated with people of such power and are interested in seeing incumbent Presidents relaxing and at play.

Since 1989, when George Herbert Walker Bush became the 41st President, Kennebunkport has seen a huge swell of visitors hoping to see the Bush family compound at Walker Point. There are maps and historical information about the Bush family, and the site is a destination for people around the world.

Home values have gone up significantly, Fitzgerald noted, but the community of about 4,000 has not seen huge hotels or other new business.

He said there is a huge difference between having a sitting President and a retired President in town. The entourage is much smaller and less disruptive in the latter instance.

Last week, on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, Romney talked about his house in Wolfeboro and how he enjoyed some sunny lakeside time recently with five of his visiting grandchildren.

Last Wednesday, a huge white tent was erected on his shorefront to host guests. Residents say the Romneys are good neighbors and seem to use the property a fair amount.

The Romneys bought the house for about $3 million from a friend and fellow graduate of Brigham Young University. The home is now valued at more than $10 million, 14 years later. They have given up their longtime home in Belmont, Mass., but still own property in Massachusetts and have another home in the La Jolla section of San Diego near some of their grandchildren.

Some who visit and live in this town, 'America's Oldest Summer Resort,' have been talking about what could change.

Last Monday, Wolfeboro Town Manager David Owen said the community of 6,300 full-time residents 'would be very happy and proud to have one of its seasonal residents being elevated to that high an office.'

'We would do what's necessary' to accommodate those who might come to see the President, he said.

But it would be different from Kennebunkport in that the only way to view the house would be from the water, Owen noted. There is no way to see the house from the road, and it dead-ends at a town beach. The road, he said, could be limited to residents only if traffic became a problem, but that would be determined by the police and the Secret Service.

Mary DeVries, executive director of the Wolfeboro Chamber of Commerce, said townspeople are quite used to rubbing oars and elbows with Fortune 500 corporate executives, movie stars and politicians and have accommodated sitting heads of state before, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007.

'It would be exciting,' she said. 'But it would be different from Kennebunkport.'

The Romneys' New Hampshire residence has six bedrooms, and the property includes a three-bay boat house facing Barn Door Island.

Sarkozy spent part of his summer in Wolfeboro when he came to America for a visit with the Bush family, renting a home just south of the Romneys on the lake.

New Hampshire Marine Patrol Lt. Timothy Dunleavy said that while Sarkozy was here, the department had a 24-hour presence in the water around the property. Dunleavy said the state was never reimbursed by the U.S. or French governments for the time.

U.S. Coast Guard New Castle handles the perimeter detail for Walker Point in Kennebunkport, and when either of the U.S. Presidents was at the compound, there was a perimeter around the house that boaters could not enter.

Inland waters are protected in New Hampshire by the Marine Patrol, and Dunleavy said he assumed there would also be a perimeter patrol needed for the Romney compound if he became President.

Some Lakes Region businesses could see an uptick, particularly those on the water.

Wolfeboro Trolley Co. operates the Millie B, a 1994, mahogany 28-foot HackerCraft that provides half-hour tours in the Wolfeboro and Alton area. It is among three vessels that ply those waters with the public.

The Millie B tour includes information on the people who have stayed near or own property on the Big Lake.

The Marriotts, good friends of the Romneys, have maintained homes on the lake, as have the heads of such corporations as Black and Decker, Budweiser and Walgreens. Retailer L.L. Bean has used a house to shoot for its catalogs. Actor Jack Lemmon owned a house here, as did Chinese first lady Madame Chiang Kai-Shek.

Fitzgerald, in Kennebunkport, recalled how at the beginning of the senior Bush's presidency 'they overdid it a bit' by blocking all the traffic in town in three different directions for an hour 'just so he could get to the airport or to a golf date.'

Fitzgerald said notoriety of being the 'Summer White House' has 'way outweighed the negatives,' and he suggested that could be the same situation for Wolfeboro if Romney were elected President.

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