PORT DEPOSIT -- On the hill high above this riverfront town, construction workers are taking the first steps toward transforming a run-down and abandoned Navy base into what is being promoted as one of the premier residential and business parks in the Mid-Atlantic region.
"It's been a long time coming," Mayor Robert Flayhart said of a billion-dollar-plus project that is considered the largest development in Cecil County history and one of the largest in Maryland.
"We've waited so long," he said of a plan seven years in the making to redevelop the 1,200 acres of the former Bainbridge Naval Training Center, which closed in 1976.
Work at the site has mostly been limited to stabilizing the turn-of-the-century granite mansions that made up the Tome School, where the sons of the well-to-do were educated.
The school buildings, which were later incorporated into the Bainbridge Naval Training Center, are to be restored and serve as the centerpiece of a 1,000-unit continuing-care retirement community.
"We've completed the drying of the roof of the headmaster's home and stopped the water from coming in," Steven P. Risk said of the stone structure that offers the best view of the river below.
Risk is president of Paul Risk Associates Inc., the Quarryville, Pa., company working on the retirement center, for which about 75 acres has been set aside. Plans also call for a 450-acre business park and 1,250 housing units.
The plan calls for hiking trails, an amphitheater, a lake for fishing or paddle boat rides, a veterans museum and a cemetery.
Land is set aside to house an education center stemming from a partnership between Cecil Community College and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County to offer four-year degree programs.
Public parks will feature football and baseball fields, pools and tennis courts. An 18,000-square-foot private country club will include indoor recreation.
"It will be a place where people can live, play and work," said Clark Turner, president of Clark Turner Cos. of Belcamp, one of the partners in the development team working on Bainbridge.
One of the first surprises at Bainbridge came last month when AccelaPure Corp., a Glasgow, Del.-based biopharmaceutical company involved in drug discovery and purification, announced it would be moving in.
AccelaPure will start out with a 40,000-square-foot building on 5 acres with about 35 employees. Over the next seven years, the company plans to add a building on 20 more acres and increase employment to 250.
"This was a surprise," said Richard M. Alter, president of Manekin LLC in Columbia, another member of the development team. He had expected housing construction would come first.
Another surprise that could have a major impact on Bainbridge came last year when the federal government announced that it would move key defense operations from Fort Monmouth, N.J., to Aberdeen Proving Ground.
"Nobody anticipated this when the state first announced plans for the development of Bainbridge back in 1999," said Vernon Thompson, director of economic development in Cecil County.
Thompson said the military's base realignment and closure process would bring about 8,000 jobs to APG and an anticipated 15,000 to 20,000 additional contractor jobs with companies moving to the region.
"BRAC is going to accelerate the development of Bainbridge," Thompson said. "We are aggressively marketing Bainbridge to companies planing to move here."
He said new water and sewer lines would be laid from Port Deposit to Bainbridge during the first quarter of next year.
James Richardson, Thompson's counterpart in Harford, said his department has teamed with Cecil and Baltimore counties to help accommodate the growth.
"Bainbridge is being looked at by some of these companies, and they could be making their relocation decisions by the end of the year," he said.
Alter said BRAC probably will speed the development of the employment center.
"We originally thought it would take 20 years to build out the business park," he said. "Now we are thinking 15."
He said no acreage would be added to the project but that density might be increased.
"We may be building more two- and three-story buildings as opposed to one-story."
The redevelopment of the former Navy boot camp is expected to have a major economic impact on this town of about 800 residents.
Port Deposit doesn't fit the profile of most waterfront communities around Maryland, said Anirban Basu, an economist and chief executive of Sage Policy Group in Baltimore.
"You usually see more affluent housing along the waterfront," he said. "I can see most of the current residents selling out at a handsome price and people with higher incomes moving in. There will be a big turnover in housing."
Flayhart expects the town's historic district to become a tourist attraction and entice new restaurants and service-oriented businesses, including home improvement companies and landscape contractors.
In a town where the current annual budget is about $250,000, the mayor expects the tax base to be about $1 million after the Bainbridge project is completed.
"This is going to be a happening place," Flayhart said.