Hotel's delays spark some reservations

Contract dispute hinders opening of Cambridge resort

March 17, 2002|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

CAMBRIDGE - A few workers planted trees, installed aluminum railing and inspected job sites yesterday at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Resort, even as the project has become mired in a contract dispute that has delayed its opening, perhaps until late summer.

"We're working," said Rich Reeves, a project manager for Clark Construction Group Inc., the general contractor. "We're here on Saturdays working."

The golf course has been completed, flowers planted and the volleyball court filled with sand, but the rooms have no furniture and subcontractors and suppliers are owed money. State officials are working to resolve the disagreement between Clark and the resort's owner, the Maryland Economic Development Corp.

For the most part, local business operators are patient about the $74.4 million project at the edge of the Choptank, which is seen as a huge economic boon to the county and state. They have seen the opening date change three times.

The 400-room luxury resort, with three swimming pools, a heath spa and wildlife refuge, was to open in December. Then the date was March 1, then June 1. Now, no one ventures a firm date.

"It will open," said Charles W. Kelly, owner of Craig's Drug Store, about 2 miles away in downtown Cambridge. "That's a rather large project, and large projects don't always go smoothly. ... So, if it takes a few more months, it's OK. It will be finished. They're not going to abandon it."

Not everyone is so sure.

Glenda Wroten, a waitress at Doris Mae's Restaurant, has watched the repeated changes in the opening date and thinks it's possible the project might sit idle for a while.

"It wouldn't surprise me," she said yesterday. "We just don't think it's going to go."

She also has some doubts about whether the resort will draw the business downtown that some envision.

"If they're going to have everything out there to keep people there, how many are really going to come here?" she asked. "There's no shopping downtown except for the thrift stores. I don't see how it's going to help the downtown - now the stores out on the [Route 50] strip, maybe."

The delays are frustrating to tourism officials, who anticipated that the resort's opening would coincide with the busy summer season when crowds drive through Cambridge on the way to Ocean City and other beaches.

"Sure, we would have loved to have the Hyatt open as soon as possible," said Natalie Chabot, the Dorchester County director of tourism. "But we're just looking forward to when they do open, because it will have a tremendous impact on the local economy as well as the state's."

Rick Travers, co-owner and manager of Simmons Center Market downtown, said that although the resort is not open, it has spurred development: "I think big things are happening just because the Hyatt is coming. I would like to have seen it open in March or June, like they said. But I think overall we'll be fine."

In the pending dispute, Clark blames about $20 million in cost overruns on the Maryland Economic Development Corp. and has filed papers in Dorchester County Circuit Court to obtain a mechanic's lien.

The papers say that MEDCO did not meet its contractual obligation to ensure that the project was designed to meet its budget. MEDCO, the quasi-public nonprofit agency that owns the resort, said Clark officials signed a maximum price contract, and then exceeded it.

The three partners in the project are Clark Enterprises Inc. of Bethesda - parent company of Clark Construction - Quadrangle Development Corp. of Washington and Hyatt Hotels and Resorts of Chicago.

Although the delays have required Hyatt to cancel bookings, at least one industry expert believes that lost business and the rocky start are unlikely to cause lasting damage.

"At some point, the hotel is going to open and will develop its reputation," said Reint Reinders, president of the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Hotel officials can do a variety of things to ease the pain for clients who have been inconvenienced - from paying for wedding invitations that have to be reprinted to providing free rooms, he said.

"These things are a blip. It's not going to matter long term. We all have very short memories. There is too much going on in our lives," he said.

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