N.C. man plans to open a B&B 25 miles out to sea

CHARLOTTE, N.C. _ A Mint Hill, N.C. man hopes to turn an abandoned tower standing 60 feet above the waves of the Atlantic Ocean into one of North Carolina's most distinctive vacation getaways.

The tower's 5,000 square feet of living space includes seven bedrooms, a kitchen and a rec room. Guests would come by boat or helicopter. They could expect fabulous views of sunrises, sunsets, sea turtles and even migrating whales.

The Frying Pan Shoals Light Tower is a rusting, 44-year-old nautical landmark 25 miles off Southport along the southeastern N.C. coast. Now, an enterprising software sales engineer plans to convert the former U.S. Coast Guard outpost into a B&B unlike any in the country.

Richard Neal, who's not a developer, won the right to buy the tower in May in a government auction with a sealed bid of $85,000. His was the only bid, according to the General Services Administration in Atlanta.

"That's either a really good price or a bad price," said Neal, 49, who lives just east of Charlotte. Then he added: "Oceanfront property for $85,000?"

Neal doesn't yet own the 125-foot-high tower. He's put 20 percent down and says he intends to close the deal by an Aug. 2 deadline. He'd get a bill of sale that wouldn't include the seabed beneath.

After he restores the tower, Neal said he plans to open it by next summer for overnight rentals for sport fishermen and, by 2012, as a high-seas hideaway for vacations and corporate retreats.

And no, he asserts, he won't put in an offshore casino.

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