Huge future Hyatt resort is shaking up Cambridge

Upscale trend grows in an area beset by economic woes

April 11, 2001|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

CAMBRIDGE - At the edge of the Choptank River, the frame of the $150 million Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Resort rises to its full six stories. The footprint of three swimming pools is stamped in the freshly turned soil. And grass soon will need trimming on hills that one day will form its championship golf course.

Few locals have seen the hotel up close yet. They are kept at bay by the bustling construction teams and road closure signs that discourage unnecessary traffic.

But, many of them look to the resort's opening in December with an excitement rare in Dorchester County, a county long beset with economic woes.

"I believe the Hyatt is a definite catalyst to our economy," said Charles W. Kelly, owner of Craig's Pharmacy, about 2 miles away, in downtown Cambridge. "It puts us on the map. People are getting to see Cambridge who would have just driven through."

Already, he and his wife have tailored some stock in their 6,000-square-foot store with an eye to new visitors.

"We've tried to carry a more upscale product line," Kelly said. "We've done it in anticipation."

Just inside the door is a display of fragrant Lang candles and a wall of stuffed animals. There is a stockpile of juices and bottled waters. A local photographer's work is for sale, along with T-shirts from a local tour boat and specially designed money clips featuring a local skipjack: the Nathan of Dorchester.

"You have to promote your area and what you have," said Kelly's wife, Karen. "In my opinion it's going to bring people to the area to see the waterfront and the quaint town and to see that we're beginning to thrive."

Already, the sales force pitching the resort is encouraged.

About a dozen large groups already have booked space at the resort through 2003 . The Maryland Governor's Tourism Industry Conference and the Maryland Municipal League will hold their annual meetings there in 2002.

Hyatt, which has been booking rooms since June, does not release booking numbers and declined to identify any other groups that have reserved the property.

"What is a surprise is how many people know the location and are very excited that we're coming," said Marc W. Ellin, vice president and managing director of Hyatt Hotels and Resorts.

Construction started last spring. Groups can take hard-hat tours of the facilities and visit two model rooms decorated in rich blues and golds.

The resort will have 400 rooms, three major restaurants and 16 fireplaces inside and out, with a nautical touch throughout. An indoor pool, surrounded by lush vegetation and enclosed by glass, will make up "the Wintergarden."

The resort also plans to build 450 single-family homes and multi-family residences, 450 boat slips and perhaps some time shares. Other amenities on the 350-acre site are an 18,000-square-foot European health spa and a wildlife refuge.

The resort also will offer 35,000 square feet for meetings and other functions, including 24 meeting rooms and two ballrooms.

On peak nights during the fall and winter season as many as 300 rooms are expected to be booked by groups such as the Maryland Municipal League. During the summer season, the groups are expected to use about 150 to 200 rooms.

"Hundreds of thousands of impressions" are being made by beach-bound motorists on U.S. 50, from which the resort is clearly visible, Ellin said. "We're hoping that some of them will make this an alternative or in addition to the beach."

Hyatt officials also hope to attract some of the tourists who stay in resorts such as the Greenbrier in West Virginia and the Homestead in Virginia. The Hyatt's room rates will depend on the season and will range from $250 to $2,000.

Aside from a $2 million loan from the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, the project is being privately financed .

Though Hyatt Hotels Corp. will manage the resort, it is technically owned by the 17-year-old Maryland Economic Development Corp., a quasi-public nonprofit organization.

By placing the official ownership in the nonprofit's hands and by locating the resort in a tax-favored enterprise zone, Hyatt and its corporate partners were able to insure that the bonds used to finance the project would be tax exempt. The resort occupies the site of a former state psychiatric hospital.

Although many in Cambridge look forward to the resort and the changes it will bring, that sentiment is not universal.

"I believe if you put it on the ballot Monday, 40 percent would vote to stop it right now," said Bob W. Parks, owner of Bob's Barber Shop in Cambridge. "A lot of the older people are afraid of the noise, the crowds and the traffic."

Parks is a supporter - although he is convinced that the growth will be felt on U.S. 50 before downtown.

"I think it's great," said Parks, who's been in business for 30 years. "It's got to help the area. We've been putting up with the Ocean City traffic for years. Now a few people might stop."

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