Cambridge waterfront park project to get $3 million boost from state

URBAN LANDSCAPE

December 23, 1993|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

Cambridge residents got an early Christmas present this month when the Schaefer administration committed $3 million to help pay for Sailwinds Park, a $35 million waterfront recreation area and tourist attraction along the Choptank River.

The money, from the state Department of Transportation, will be combined with other funds to build a $4 million visitors center near the entrance to the park.

It is the first multimillion-dollar infusion for the Eastern Shore project, which is intended to revitalize Cambridge in the same way that the Inner Harbor redevelopment brought visitors to downtown Baltimore. An additional $600,000 has been raised through a combination of city, county, state and private sources.

With fourth-fifths of a mile of shoreline, the 31-acre property is highly visible from U.S. 50, the main route that thousands take between the Bay Bridge and Ocean City. The planners of Sailwinds Park want to create an attraction that will get more travelers to stop in Cambridge, which has a population of 11,500.

"It's a big step," said C. Robert Spedden, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Sailwinds Park Inc., the nonprofit group behind the development. "Part of our goal is to create a whole new entrance, a new image for Cambridge, through Sailwinds Park. The visitors center is our billboard."

"This sends a clear signal to anybody who's watching that this project is going to happen," said Jim Gracie, director of development for CityWorks Inc., a consulting business that is working with community leaders to build Sailwinds Park.

The park takes its name from a proposed "sail garden" that would feature a sculpture made of rotating sails. Other aspects of the plan, to be carried out over the next five years or more, include a festival marketplace, an open-air farmers' market, a 300-room hotel and restaurant, a 180-slip marina, a dance pavilion, an amphitheater, a carousel, a waterfront promenade and picnic grounds.

A 16,400-square-foot "festival hall" opened this year inside a warehouse formerly used by the Maryland Port Administration, which made 11 acres available for the park. It has been the site of a dozen events this year that drew thousands to Dorchester County.

The $3 million commitment for the visitors center, coupled with the opening of the festival hall, "should provide the critical mass for that project to take off and attract private investment and become a destination," said state Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer.

The 15,000-square-foot visitors center will include tourist information services, an exhibit area, a 125-seat theater and an observation area overlooking wetlands.

One exhibit, "The Natural World of the Eastern Shore," will focus on the origin and evolution of the Chesapeake Bay. A second, "Working the Land and Water," will explore the ways residents have made a living, from growing tobacco to packing oysters.

A third section, "The Peoples of the Shore," will examine the Indian population, European colonists and slavery. It will also tell the story of Harriet Tubman, a black Cambridge native who was instrumental in establishing the "Underground Railroad" that helped slaves escape to freedom.

An Eastern Shore group recently expressed interest in building a 300-room, $16.5 million hotel. Besides negotiating with that group next year, the development group intends to build a 3,500-square-foot pavilion and to identify developers for a 50,000-square-foot marketplace, Mr. Spedden said.

Construction of the visitors center is expected to start by the end of 1994 and be completed in 1995.

Top of the World

A group headed by Design Collective of Baltimore has been chosen to redesign the Top of the World Observation Level and Museum atop the World Trade Center.

Offering panoramic views of Baltimore, the 27th-floor exhibit space draws 200,000 visitors a year. The Schmoke administration wants to renovate it to upgrade the layout and reflect changes to the city skyline since the attraction opened in 1979. Preliminary plans will be used to raise money to carry out the $3 million project at 401 E. Pratt St.

Design Collective was picked over 20 other contenders. Other Top of the World team members include Active 8, producer and designer of "high-tech exhibitry"; David Ashton and Co., graphic design; John Starr, script writer; Economic Research Associates, financial analysis; and Lighting Design Collaborative, lighting designer.

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