Better days on the Choptank; Cambridge resort: Luxury Hyatt complex could end decades of decline for Dorchester County.


PROSPERITY has eluded Cambridge, a historic town of 10,800 on the Lower Eastern Shore. While nearby communities -- St. Michael's, Oxford and Easton -- draw tourists and wealthy retirees, Cambridge, the focal point of agricultural Dorchester County, limps along.

Unemployment in Dorchester County, at 7.8 percent, is third-highest in the state, exceeding Baltimore's 7.4 percent jobless rate.

That could change, thanks to a deal sealed this week between the state and Hyatt Hotels to turn 342 acres on the shores of the Choptank River into a luxury resort. By the end of 2001, the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Resort should open, providing 600 direct and indirect jobs and a $34 million annual boost to the state and local economy.

Already, the impact of this $155 million development has been felt. Commercial property values have doubled; a Holiday Inn Express, with 86 rooms, is rising across the street from the future site of the Hyatt resort.

Officials envision a vacation complex rivaling the finest getaways in the mid-Atlantic. Cambridge's resort will feature 400 rooms, a 24,000-square-foot conference center, a large European spa, a championship golf course and a 150-slip marina. Later, Hyatt plans call for 350 golf-course homes, adding $60 million to the county's property tax rolls.

What appeals to Hyatt is the idyllic setting along the broad Choptank (which also is near U.S. 50) and the location's easy access to Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia and Wilmington.

Visitors will discover the beauty of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and the fascinating history of this 315-year-old town, where Harriet Tubman, of Underground Railroad fame, was born, and Annie Oakley's house still stands.

Efforts in recent years to bring casino gambling to Cambridge were wisely resisted. A luxury resort is enough of a draw.

It took four years to bring the Hyatt project to fruition, but it was worth the effort.

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