A favorite rest stop for millions of travelers along Interstate 95 in Maryland will reopen its doors to the public next week after receiving a $30 million makeover by the state and its private-industry partners.
The new Maryland House, a 42,000-square-foot, gable-roofed and glass-enclosed structure, features nine food vendors, a tourist information center, larger bathrooms and several shops. A new Sunoco gas station on the property includes more than 40 fueling outlets with state-of-the-art pumps that speed up the fueling process.
"I like the sort of open-air feel and concept," said Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown during a tour and ribbon-cutting at the new Aberdeen facility on Monday.
"This is so much better," said James Smith, the state's transportation secretary, as he stood with Brown and Sen. Ben Cardin in the facility's new men's bathroom, which has twice as many stalls and urinals as the previous facility.
The former Maryland House opened in 1963, and later became one of the most frequented travel plazas in the country, with lines often forming outside the bathrooms. It was closed in 2012 under a $56 million public-private partnership to redevelop it and the nearby Chesapeake House.
The Chesapeake House, which opened in Cecil County in 1975, will close to the public next week so work there can be completed by September, said Xavier Rabell, CEO of Areas USA, which won a contract to build the facilities and operate them for the state through 2047.
Construction of the new Chesapeake House facility began on land adjacent to the existing facility in the spring. Rabell said that structure is complete, and with Maryland House reopened, work will begin to demolish the old Chesapeake House and turn the site of the former facility into parking.
Rabell said he expects it to take 10 to 12 years for his company to recoup its investment. "It will depend on traffic. It will depend on our service to our customers," he said.
More than 5 million people have stopped annually at Maryland House and Chesapeake House, which are state-owned, in recent years.
That volume of travelers largely shaped the design of the new structures, as did architecture and design aesthetics native to Maryland, said Glenn Birx, chief operating officer of Ayers Saint Gross, the project's Baltimore-based designer.
"You have to design to the peak hours," Birx said.
The plaza offers about 500 seats for dining.
During the ribbon-cutting, Brown, Smith and Cardin all lauded the completed plaza as the newest success under the state's public-private partnership law. They also celebrated the more than 400 construction jobs and 575 operating jobs the state has said the project has generated.
"We couldn't have done this solely as a state endeavor," Cardin said.
The plazas are expected to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in state revenue over the course of the Areas contract.
Brown called the Maryland House "an iconic symbol along this heavily traveled corridor."
The new facility features a Phillip's Seafood, Wendy's, Nathan's, Currito, Jerry's Subs and Pizza, Auntie Anne's, Dunkin' Donuts, Carvel and Sunshine Market. It also has a Brookstone and an Orange Optix.
The separate Sunoco gas station includes a 5,700-square-foot A Plus convenience store.
Bruce Gartner, executive director of the Maryland Transportation Authority, said officials with the state and Areas are working through final checklists to make sure everything at the facility is ready for its opening. Officials did not provide an exact opening date but said it will be next week.
Al Doane, 78, of Port Deposit works at the Maryland House tourist center and said he is excited for the public to see the new facility. After working at the Chesapeake House for more than 17 years, the last four in its welcome center, Doane said he jumped at the offer from Areas to continue working in the new facilities.
A former history teacher and headmaster at Lighthouse Christian Academy in Port Deposit, Doane said talking to visitors about Maryland's history is his favorite part of the job, and there is now room for more visitors than ever.
"If we got five to six tour buses in, we were armpit to armpit," he said of the crowded older facilities. "Now I look forward to 10 to 15 buses at a time."
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