One man's dream for Leonardtown Golf course is key to Vogel's vision

November 11, 1996|By Debbie M. Price | Debbie M. Price,SUN STAFF

LEONARDTOWN -- Mark Vogel heads toward the center of town, past the sad brick buildings and boarded-up storefronts on Fenwick Street.

"Just look at this," Vogel says, gesturing toward the signs of Leonardtown's decline. "This is a crime right here."

He turns down Washington Street, stopping finally on the parking lot of a dilapidated ice house in front of the rotting piers of Leonardtown's waterfront.

Vogel's dream -- and Leonardtown's rescue, as he describes it -- lies in the woods along the shore of Breton Bay, just to the west on 435 acres known about town as the Mattingly Farm and on Vogel's drawing board as Tudor Hall Farm.

"My hotel will be right over there," Vogel says. "I'm hoping to put a walking trail where people could come down and fish. The waterfront restaurant would go right up there."

As Vogel talks, the seedy shoreline melts away and it is almost possible to hear the tinkle of glasses on the hotel veranda and the sharp crack of a ball on the fairway of the golf course that, in Vogel's plan, would roll lush and green to the water's edge.

Vogel, the consummate salesman, is selling hard, pitching his new, reformed self along with his plan for Leonardtown's revival.

The proposed Tudor Hall development heralds the return -- at least to the public eye -- of Vogel, the storied Prince George's County developer whose saga of boom-and-bust real estate and racetrack ventures came to typify the excess and collapse of the 1980s real estate market in the Washington area.

Vogel's proposal is all the more interesting -- and somewhat troubling to some -- because it includes at its heart a publicly owned golf course built with state funds and municipal bond revenues.

Townsfolk, at the urging of Vogel, have met with Gov. Parris N. Glendening to discuss the possibility of requesting a $3 million state grant to build the golf course -- money that would be used to purchase land from Vogel. Vogel calls the golf course "key" to his plans.

And in true Maryland fashion, the project is linked, at least tangentially, with prominent political names.

Vogel's lawyer in Leonardtown is Philip Dorsey, son of St. Mary's County State's Attorney Walter Dorsey and stepson of former Gov. Marvin Mandel. Vogel says he talks with Mandel "just about every day."

Glendening met in September with Leonardtown officials and Del. John F. Wood Jr., a Democrat who represents St. Mary's County. The governor has indicated polite, if tentative, interest in the proposal.

Glendening said in a letter to Leonardtown Mayor J. Harry "Chip" Norris III that while he would not commit state support at the present time, he would be "happy to review the project again and determine if any State funding, including Project Open Space funding, is available for the golf course," once the zoning and permitting processes are completed.

Glendening was unavailable to be interviewed for this story. Press secretary Judi Scioli said the governor "is not inclined to use public money for golf courses; however, he is inclined to help with revitalization." Asked whether the golf course would be considered a revitalization project, Scioli declined to answer directly but said that the governor did like aspects of the project that involve revitalization.

And it is the revitalization aspects that project supporters are selling hardest.

"Baltimore City got its two stadiums. Prince George's County got its courthouse and showcase arena," says Philip Dorsey. "The Eastern Shore got 'Reach the Beach,' and the only thing we ever got in Leonardtown was the bypass, which has hurt this community. The town of Leonardtown needs this grant to get back on the map."

Base-inspired growth

The Tudor Hall project is one of several planned in St. Mary's County to capitalize on the sudden arrival of thousands of families whose jobs, in the defense industry and in the military, have been transferred to the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, about 100 miles south of Baltimore.

It is by far the largest and most ambitious residential development planned in Leonardtown, population 1,600, which heretofore has struggled just outside the reach of base-inspired economic growth.

With 600 to 650 upscale single-family homes slated, along with the hotel, restaurant and golf course, the development ultimately could double the population of Leonardtown. Town officials and residents alike are enthusiastic about the "concept" of upscale clustered homes, open spaces and a luxury hotel, praising Vogel for his apparent attention to quality.

"The Town Council is 100 percent behind the development concept," says Mayor Norris. "We love the plan."

Concept aside, however, many are less sanguine about Vogel's past -- bankruptcy and 1990 guilty plea for cocaine possession under probation before judgment -- and about the financial aspects of the plan that call for the town to establish a nonprofit corporation to buy land for the golf course from Vogel and then to build and operate it.

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