Hyatt to build resort on Choptank Governor announces deal for $152 million complex at Cambridge

January 08, 1998|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced yesterday that Hyatt Hotels has agreed to develop a $152 million luxury resort complex in Cambridge -- potentially giving the economically distressed Eastern Shore community its most important economic boost in decades.

Surrounded by beaming local elected officials and Hyatt executives, the governor hailed Hyatt's agreement to build a hotel, convention center and golf course on a 342-acre waterfront parcel as "the biggest economic development announcement in the history of Cambridge."

Exuberant state officials and Hyatt executives predicted the resort on the Choptank River would become one of the leading tourist draws on the East Coast -- rivaling the Greenbrier in West Virginia and South Carolina's Myrtle Beach.

And as Glendening gleefully pointed out, Hyatt's announced plans do not conflict with his vehement opposition to expanded gambling.

"They are not based on slot machines, they are not based on casinos. They are based on good solid investment and hard work," the governor said. In recent years, gambling advocates have frequently cited Cambridge as an example of a community that could benefit from casino development.

Glendening made his announcement at yesterday's meeting in Annapolis of the state Board of Public Works, which immediately ratified an agreement under which the state would sell its Eastern Shore Hospital Center complex to a Hyatt-led development group for $5 million. The psychiatric hospital, which now houses about 80 patients on a vast complex, is expected to move to a new, 22-acre site about a half-mile away. Construction is to begin in April 1999.

The deal is contingent upon Hyatt's ability to secure a loan of $80 million by Jan. 31, 1999, to finance construction of the project.

Nicholas J. Pritzker, president of Hyatt Development Corp., told a State House news conference that he was "extremely confident" the company will be able to secure the loan.

"We look at this as a truly pioneering project that's going to create a lot of excitement internationally," Pritzker said.

State officials said the first phase of the Hyatt complex would consist of a "four star" resort with an 18-hole golf course, a 400-room luxury hotel, a 50,000-square-foot conference center, a square-foot spa and a 300-slip marina. That phase is expected to be completed by 2002.

A second phase would include 300 residential lots, with development to begin in 2003.

Glendening said the project would create 500 construction jobs, 350 permanent jobs and 300 other jobs in a region that can use the economic stimulus. Dorchester County has long had one of the highest unemployment rates in the state.

Local elected officials of both parties hailed the announcement as some of the best economic news the region has received in recent years. Even lawmakers who are normally inclined to hurl brickbats at Glendening were throwing bouquets.

"It's a great day for Cambridge and Dorchester County and the Eastern Shore," said Sen. Richard F. Colburn. The Dorchester County Republican praised Eugene R. Lynch, secretary of the Department of General Services, and the governor for their persistence through more than two years of negotiations.

"The naysayers said this would never happen -- that casino gambling would have to be involved," Colburn said. "This is a great step and a feather in the cap of the no-casino advocates."

But Gerard E. Evans, an Annapolis lobbyist who represents a company that proposed building a casino in Cambridge, predicted the project would not go ahead without gambling. He noted that nothing in the sale agreement prohibited the use of the site for casino gambling, which is prohibited by state law, and questioned why state officials did not insist on such a provision.

"They know that gaming's coming to Cambridge and they want to leave the option open to have gaming at this site," Evans said.

Pritzker could not be reached for comment after the announcement, but Lynch said he had received assurances from the Hyatt executive that gambling is not in the company's plans.

Lynch, the state's lead negotiator in the lengthy talks, said the state did not seek specific deed restrictions.

"You don't get deed restrictions if you're selling it for top market value," he said.

Lynch said the state has agreed to help finance the development with a $2 million loan from its Sunny Day Fund. He said Dorchester County is expected contribute $3 million in the form of an economic development loan.

Pub Date: 1/08/98

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