Waterfront redevelopment ready for bids

Susquehanna River park to include restored jetty

May 02, 2004|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

PORT DEPOSIT -- This historic Susquehanna River town will take a big step toward becoming a Cecil County tourist attraction tomorrow when it begins advertising for bids on the construction for a long-planned restoration of its waterfront property.

Plans call for the development of a waterfront park and marina and reconstruction of a jetty that the Navy built during World War II. Sailors attending boot camp at the Bainbridge Naval Training Center, on a plateau above town, would pack the pier, waiting to clamber into one of the more than 100 whaleboats docked there so they could practice maneuvers up and down the river.

When construction is completed on the more than $1 million project next summer, the jetty will serve an entirely different role.

The sailors will be replaced by tourists and residents who will line up to take a water taxi to Perryville, Havre de Grace or Susquehanna State Park.

Others will board the paddle-wheeler Lantern Queen for a dinner cruise along the river and upper Chesapeake Bay. The Martha Lewis, a two-sail skipjack built in 1955, will dock at the jetty to take passengers interested in oyster dredging.

"It will be a bit like Baltimore's Inner Harbor," said Harold V. Harbold, a Port Deposit developer who has been involved with plans for the jetty and park for at least 10 years. "The park and marina here will have that kind of feel."

Plans call for an outdoor concert area, waterfront bike and pedestrian trails and picnic areas.

The historic Tome gashouse, where the fuel for the gaslights that once decorated Main Street was generated from coal, will become a visitor center.

Fishing for the perch and shad, once a big business in town, will be allowed on the jetty.

"There will be a replica of the old whaleboats used by the Navy," said Jeannette Hillyer, an 82-year-old Cecil County native. "The park is really going to be beautiful when it's done. I can hardly wait. I've been waiting a long time for this."

Currently, the nearly 2-acre waterfront property is forlorn. There is a scattering of picnic tables and some playground equipment. On a warm morning last week, about a dozen fishermen were casting lines from the shore.

Bill Eldred, the town's community development director, said the ads seeking a builder will be in newspapers, including The Sun, tomorrow. The information will also be posted on the State Highway Administration Web site, he said.

He said the project will be funded by state and federal grants, and, if things go according to plan, the work could be completed by next summer.

The jetty and marina park are expected to be an economic boon to a town that has been down on its luck since the Navy base closed in 1976. It sees tourism as a new industry that will help make up for the loss of the Navy and the closing of a company that made tubes used in the Fort McHenry Tunnel in Baltimore.

Harbold said the town, founded in 1729, is in the midst of a miniversion of Baltimore's waterfront revitalization program, which was started more than 40 years ago.

"There is no question about it, we are going to see new restaurants and shops coming to Main Street," he said. "We've had two restaurants open within the past month, D'Lorenzo's and Moretti's."

Judy Leonard, a Port Deposit resident active in civic affairs and who once served as acting town administrator, said Marina Park will bring in the tourism that will cause new businesses along Main Street to prosper. "The town only has about 800 residents," she said, "you need the tourist trade for the new restaurants to survive.

"The park is going to be a big bonus for this town. It will become a destination and lure tourists."

Housing development is also showing new signs of vigor. Harbold said he built seven townhouses on Main Street last year, and that there is demand for additional housing. "I will be making improvements to four existing homes and building four new homes along Main Street," he said.

"Five or six new construction projects will be under way by next summer," said Eldred. "We are into a renaissance."

Port Deposit is also expected to benefit from the redevelopment of the 1,200-acre Bainbridge base into a residential and business center.

Earlier this year, Port Deposit Mayor Robert Flayhart said, "The winds of change are already blowing through town. Property values are already rising, and they will continue to go up."

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