The development of the former Bainbridge Naval Training Center in Port Deposit will mark the arrival of Cecil County as a major growth hot spot in Maryland and boost Port Deposit's future, according to several prominent economists and local officials.
"Bainbridge will kick-start a significant economic resurgence of Cecil County," said Anirban Basu, chairman and chief executive of Optimal Solutions Group in Baltimore. "Cecil County's time is coming. In the next 10 to 15 years it will be one of the leading growth counties in the state."
Basu is very familiar with Bainbridge, a 1,200-acre site on a hill overlooking Port Deposit and the Susquehanna River. Three years ago he did an economic impact study for a national company that had proposed a major redevelopment of the property.
Basu is not alone in predicting big things for Port Deposit and the rest of the county will stem from the development of one of the prime industrial and residential sites along Interstate 95 from New York to Washington.
"The Northeastern part of Maryland will benefit greatly from the development of Bainbridge," said Daraius Irani, director of applied economics at RESI of Towson University, the school's research and consulting arm.
The Bainbridge Development Corp. has given preliminary approval to a team of influential Maryland developers to redevelop the former Navy boot camp, which closed in 1976.
The BDC is the quasi-public agency created by the General Assembly in 1999 to oversee the development of Bainbridge.
The development team - including Richard Alter, president of Manekin LLC in Columbia; Clark Turner, president of Bel Air-based Clark Turner Cos.; and John Paterakis, a commercial developer in Baltimore - is expected to get the final go-ahead when the BDC's directors meet Wednesday evening at Cecil Community College.
The developers have proposed a mixed-use project that includes 1,250 houses on 300 acres and 450 acres for an employment center. It sets aside 400 acres for open space and community use, including a library, veterans' museum and cemetery, amphitheater, community college site and walking and hiking trails.
Based on his recent economic study, Irani predicts that by the time Bainbridge is fully developed in 15 years, it will generate nearly $30.5 million a year in tax revenue for the county.
After taking out the cost of services, the county is expected to reap a positive financial impact of $17.2 million, according to his research.
He estimates that the town of Port Deposit will reap nearly $780,000 a year in new revenue, after expenses, and for the state that figure is projected to be $47.7 million annually.
Irani predicts that the wage level of the jobs created by the development will be considerably higher than the county's current average.
"This type of development will serve to reduce the proportion of commuters from Cecil County who are forced to look to Delaware, Pennsylvania and neighboring Maryland jurisdictions for gainful employment," the RESI study concluded.
"Port Deposit is in the process of being discovered," said Bill Eldred, the town economic development director.
"The winds of change are already blowing through town," said Port Deposit Mayor Robert "Rob" Flayhart. "Property values are already rising, and they will continue to go up."
Looking ahead, Flayhart envisions a major transformation of Main Street with restaurants and retail shops. He also envisions higher-priced homes filling in the vacant lots along Main Street.
"There is going to be an influx of new money that's going to breathe new life into this town," Flayhart said. "We're even going to have a grocery store and maybe a racquet club. It could end up looking like Ellicott City or St. Michaels."
Eldred talked about the water taxis that would carry passengers to and from Perryville and Havre de Grace, a new marina in the southern part of town where visitors could dock their boats and maybe a cog railroad to ferry passengers between town and the development on the hill.
Anticipating an influx of new residents with jobs in Baltimore and Washington, Flayhart said there is already talk of a rail line, using trolley cars, to link Port Deposit with the Marc train station in Perryville.
"Over the next 10 to 15 years, I can envision Main Street Port Deposit as the kind of place you see in travel guides," said W. Paul Gilbert, Cecil County's economic development director. "It's a place where business activity is going to pick up and most of it is going to be driven by the development going on at Bainbridge."
Gilbert said the 1,250 homes slated to be built at Bainbridge will provide a new benchmark for residential development in the western end of the county.
He said the 450-acre employment center could generate 3,000 to 5,000 jobs.
Gilbert anticipates that many of the companies locating at Bainbridge will be involved in technology and will pay wages of $50,000 or more a year based on 2004 dollars. He said that compares with the $34,684 current average wage in the county.
"A project of this type," he said, "can lift the town, the county and this whole region of the state. A project like this brings in new jobs and a lot more disposable income that will ripple through the economy and lift everything up."
Basu said that Bainbridge's proximity to I-95 and "magnificent views" from the windows of the homes built there will be a lure to the type of companies that like to have their employees living nearby. "This would substantially improve the economic profile of the county and will likely attract even more businesses," he said.
He sees Cecil County moving in the direction of Charles County, which has become a bedroom community of Washington and a suburban business center that is home to many companies that do business with the federal government.
The anticipated transformation of Port Deposit is going to dislocate many of the town's current residents, said Basu, but their moves are not expected to be difficult.
"New people with more money are going to be moving in," he said. "They will be buying up existing houses, gutting and renovating them. The good thing is that property values will be going up and the people selling will be selling at unimaginable prices."
Assuming the developer gets a final agreement from the BDC this week, Gilbert said, it is possible that construction could start within nine months.