Developers offer details on Cecil County project

7,000 jobs are projected at former naval center

January 21, 2003|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

PORT DEPOSIT -- A group of developers unveiled details last night of their plans to build a retirement community, hotel, residential housing, offices and other businesses at the site of a closed naval training center in Cecil County.

Developers estimated the project at the former Bainbridge Naval Training Center will cost $500 million to $750 million to build, and provide nonconstruc- tion jobs for as many as 7,000 people.

The politically connected development group that is pursuing the project includes Baltimore's John Paterakis, a bakery and hotel owner who is a proponent of allowing casino gambling in Maryland.

His involvement has fueled speculation that the developers might be looking at a possible expansion of gambling in Maryland that could include the 1,200-acre Cecil County site. The property sits on a granite bluff overlooking the Susquehanna River.

But Richard M. Alter, president of Columbia-based Manekin LLC, reiterated last night that a casino isn't part of the plans for the site.

He said that he has worked with Paterakis and others involved in the project -- Prince George's developer Kenneth H. Michael and Clark Turner Cos. of Harford County -- on other real estate projects.

"This is a developer relationship, not a gambling relationship," Alter said of his partners.

Alter and Clark Turner presented the details of their plans at a meeting of the Bainbridge Development Corp., a quasi-public agency the General Assembly created in 1999 to oversee development of the site.

The developers have an exclusive negotiating agreement with the agency that expires Feb. 28.

Their plan includes transforming the historic Tome Boys School into a retirement center.

One roadblock to past efforts to develop the property appeared to be resolved -- how to get water and sewage treatment to the site.

Officials said they have worked out a plan in which the $22 million cost of water and sewage treatment would be split between the developers and the town of Port Deposit. The town would get help with the costs through grants and no-interest loans, and recover other expenses through hookup fees.

At last night's meeting, agency Chairman Harland R. Graef initially tried to meet behind closed doors with developers to discuss their plans. However, he opened that portion after The Sun objected about the public and press being excluded.

While the possibility of a casino came up yesterday -- only to be quickly dismissed -- it has been a subject of speculation in some quarters of Cecil County.

The county in northeastern Maryland -- halfway between Baltimore and Philadelphia in the heavily traveled Interstate 95 corridor-- was identified as a prime site for a potential casino when the General Assembly briefly considered legalizing casinos at selected sites in 1995.

John Leeds, who owns CM Tugs, a restaurant and bar in Port Deposit, said he has heard occasional "rumblings" over the years about the possibility of a casino at the naval center site.

But he said they never went anywhere because of former Gov. Parris N. Glendening's opposition to expanding gambling.

"Several times there has been speculation about gambling up in Bainbridge," Leeds said. "It's not out of the question. You're on the most heavily traveled interstate in the country."

The Assembly is considering proposals, backed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., to allow slot machines at four horse tracks in Maryland. Some predict that such a move would open the door for expansion to other sites.

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