Rocky Gap's Rocky Road


It has been a long and frustrating journey for backers of a golf course and conference center at Rocky Gap State Park designed to boost the economy of Western Maryland. After seven years of controversy in Annapolis and years of searching for developers, backers are within $2 million of their goal. But that last piece of the puzzle is proving elusive. Unless financial angels step forth by Sept. 1, the $48 million project will unravel.

Members of the state's business community should not let that happen. Rocky Gap, just east of Cumberland, represents a vital cog in plans to rejuvenate Western Maryland's depressed economy. The project consists of a conference center with 250 hotel rooms, a Jack Nicklaus signature golf course, a golfing academy, a tennis academy and a fly-fishing academy. All this will be nestled in a corner of the 2,800-acre state park.

The project seems a natural: Most of the weekday conference center business would come from Fortune 1000 companies, but since the Nicklaus golf course lies within commuting distance of 14 million people, it could become a weekend haven for golfers. With completion of the National Freeway in August and the commencement of commuter-air service from Cumberland to Pittsburgh, Rocky Gap's drawing power could range far up and down the East Coast and into the Ohio Valley.

But if this is such a good deal, why aren't investors lining up to participate? The economic recession has deterred many entrepreneurs. Rocky Gap also has fallen victim to the "Western Maryland syndrome" -- business leaders in the Baltimore-Washington corridor refuse to admit there's anything of investment value west of Frederick.

That executives in Baltimore and the Washington suburbs have rejected overtures from state officials is distressing. Developing a strong economy in Western Maryland is a statewide issue. The more investment activity in Cumberland, Hagerstown and Frederick, the better for all of Maryland.

Rocky Gap would give the state its only conference center of this kind, as well as its only Nicklaus golf course. The profit potential for investors is substantial. It is a novel venture that seems perfectly positioned to capture a big chunk of the conference and golfing dollar in the decades ahead.

Maryland's business community cannot let the Rocky Gap project disintegrate. It is too important to the state's future development as a well-situated locale for new businesses and as a state with superb quality-of-life features. We urge Baltimore executives to take particular note of this project. If this city's corporate leaders cannot recognize the value of investing in Rocky Gap, how can they expect politicians and businessmen in Western Maryland -- or anywhere else in the state -- to rally to Baltimore's defense?

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