Cambridge rediscovered Hyatt's resort plan: Hotelier could do for Eastern Shore what it helped do for Baltimore.

January 28, 1996

"SO THE SHALLOP sailed north with its cadre of excited explorers and when a great broad river was sighted, [Capt. John] Smith cried, 'This is our Choptank. Here is Patamoke, city of gold!' "

So wrote James A. Michener in "Chesapeake" of the English exploration of the Delmarva Peninsula in the early 1600s. Those were probably not the exact first words from corporate officers of Hyatt Hotels Corp. when they devised building a $187 million luxury resort, including a hotel, vacation homes and a golf course on the Choptank River at Cambridge.

But the point remains relevant four centuries later: The Choptank is still largely an undiscovered wonder.

The Hyatt project, if it comes about, would be a great boost for tourism on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Better than erecting a false economy on the social weakness of gambling, this plan would build on a natural strength: the beauty and identity of the shore. Hyatt's proposal came in response to a state inquiry for ideas on redeveloping a 350-acre tract that is now home to a psychiatric hospital and nonprofit agencies, services that could be relocated in another area.

The state is still reviewing other proposals for the property, although Hyatt's is the only one in the hospitality arena. It could dovetail with the $35 million Sailwinds Park visitors complex being developed upriver.

Local officials were ecstatic about Hyatt's interest. A historically rural county living off poultry processing and agriculture, Dorchester County has looked enviously at its neighbors such as Talbot and Worcester counties, which have molded themselves into tourist and retirement getaways.

St. Michaels, Oxford and Easton in nearby Talbot have become so fashionable that the state tourism office is raising its marketing aim to target higher-income travelers.

Certainly, the Hyatt cachet would bestow instant credibility on Dorchester as such a destination. The hotelier could do for an undervalued stretch of Cambridge waterfront -- Captain Smith's accolades aside -- what Hyatt helped do for a fetid shipping basin in Baltimore that became the renowned Inner Harbor.

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