Shore resort deal 'is close' Cambridge project would create about 1,000 jobs

December 11, 1997|By Kevin L. McQuaid | Kevin L. McQuaid,SUN STAFF

The state is in final negotiations to sell Hyatt Hotels Corp. a 351-acre psychiatric hospital in Cambridge, where the Chicago-based lodging chain would develop a $225 million luxury resort and residential community and create roughly 1,000 jobs.

"If it materializes, it would be the biggest boost for this community in its 314-year history," said Cambridge Mayor David Wooten. "Basically, because of the numbers involved and the credibility and quality of the Hyatt organization."

Hyatt's plan to transform the Eastern Shore Hospital Center on the banks of the Choptank River would include construction of a 500-room luxury hotel; a 7,000-yard, 18-hole golf course; a 500-slip marina; and approximately 300 single-family homes and villas.

The project would bring in millions of dollars in tax receipts annually and create roughly 1,000 permanent and construction jobs in an area where the economy has been decimated by manufacturing plant closings and technological improvements that have eliminated agricultural positions.

Dorchester County's unemployment rate, for instance, is 7.3 percent, nearly double the statewide average. State projections are that the Hyatt project would have a yearly economic impact of $30 million, including taxes and economic spinoffs.

If the state's estimated $5 million deal to sell the hospital land to Hyatt and its development partner, Quadrangle Development Corp., of Washington, reaches fruition, the resort and golf course would debut in late 2001. The land sale is expected by the end of the year, sources said.

"A deal to buy the land is close," said a top Hyatt official, who asked not to be identified. "It's an exciting project, but there's a lot to do yet before it becomes reality." Under terms of a tentative purchase agreement presented to Hyatt earlier this week, the state and Dorchester County would provide financial incentives for the hospital property sale, if the company agrees to fully finance the redevelopment. Thus far, however, Hyatt has not made an official request to the state for incentives.

"From my perspective, we're still in the midst of some difficult negotiations," said Gene Lynch, secretary of the state's Department of General Services. "We're in a positive direction, but we don't yet have an agreement. But it would be an ideal project, especially because it's in an area that has had high unemployment."

Hyatt's plans in Cambridge come as the company, controlled by the wealthy Pritzker family, has proposed developing, along with attorney Peter G. Angelos, a 22-story Grand Hyatt Hotel adjacent to the Baltimore Convention Center. Plans for that $150 million venture have been stalled, however, because Hyatt and Angelos would have to purchase the land for the 850-room hotel from the city, which has backed a $132 million Wyndham hotel planned for Inner Harbor East.

The Eastern Shore Hospital Center, which consists of 38 buildings totaling 394,000 square feet, would be relocated a mile from the existing facility once the sale is completed, Lynch said.

The hospital would sit on a 22-acre parcel and contain just 96 beds, down from the more than 300 it had a decade ago.

State officials described the property as "underutilized" in November 1995, when the Department of General Services requested proposals for the project's redevelopment. Several buildings in the hospital complex date to 1912.

"There's an ongoing need and demand for a facility in that area," Lynch said. "We had planned to develop a new hospital center in either 2002 or 2003 anyway, but we'd obviously have to accelerate that timetable if this comes to fruition."

Pub Date: 12/11/97

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