Sailwinds plan moving forward

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Dorchester Banner/Paul Clipper Economic Development Director Natalie Chabot and City Councilmen Donald Sydnor and Robert Hanson hold up the original artists rendition of the Waterfront 2020 plan visualized in 2009. The first final concept plan of the project was due this week from the Jerome J. Parks Companies, and is eagerly anticipated by the committee.

CAMBRIDGE – The Sailwinds Park redevelopment committee are studying the concept plans for the new development project intended for the Sailwinds Park property, and the public will get to see the plans in a matter of weeks, according to the committee. Deadline for the first concept plans for the park were to be submitted by the developer, Jerome J. Parks Companies of Annapolis, on October 15.

We recently spoke with Natalie Chabot, Director of the Cambridge Economic Development Department, along with Cambridge City Councilmen Donald Sydnor and Robert Hanson about the project. They serve on the eight-member City Sailwinds Committee, negotiating with the developer.

“We are in an exclusive negotiation time period with the developer, and as one of those milestones to get to the master development agreement, they are submitting a concept plan,” said Natalie Chabot, “We’re very anxious to receive something from them, to see their rendition of the mixed-use development that the people in the community said they wanted. So this is a big deadline for us. The concept will be incorporated into the master development agreement, and once the agreement is signed we will have a public process, the planning commission will have public meetings, and it (the concept plan) will be tweaked.”

Planning for the development of the property known as Sailwinds Park in Cambridge has been going on since 2008. At the time, the property was owned by the State of Maryland. In 2009, the property was deemed to be excess state property and was to be sold to the highest bidder, but the City of Cambridge pressed for a lease of the property to retain control while plans were explored for a mixed-use development of the property.
After years of public meetings and negotiations between the state and the city of Cambridge, the state ultimately agreed to sell the property back to the city for $5, a transfer that took place this past August.

There has been much criticism aimed at the town for the length of time all this has taken, considering that the Parks Company was chosen as the developer back in December 2011.

“It’s a very complex project when you look at all the elements. The more people you have involved in the decision making—the city, the state—the more things bog down,” said Chabot. “There were a lot of players, and we involved the county in the process too. Things just don’t move quickly. We also had to go back and ask for money to get the wharf replaced, and when you have to ask for money in difficult economic times—that’s not an easy task. They were going to sell this property to the highest bidder—(for us) to walk away with the property and four million dollars to repair the wharf is an awesome task for a community the size of Cambridge.”

The first part of the redevelopment plan calls for replacement of the wharf on the Sailwinds property, with the necessary funding coming from state grants.  The Sailwinds property is the second largest deep-water port in Maryland, a valuable attraction to both commercial and tourist interests. The deep water dock at the Sailwinds property will allow docking of larger cruise ships, although such a thing is considered a future benefit, and not a primary concern with the Waterfront 2020 plan.

An engineering company has been studying and evaluating the wharf structure in recent weeks. Divers have been down to examine the underpinnings, to determine the extent of the repairs necessary.

“We will very soon have the results of that investigation,” said Chabot. “We are very excited to see that, because we will be ready to start phase two once we get the final reporting. And that is exciting because it’s the first time we’ve ever been in a position to move forward with this project—physically, shovels in the ground! We were hoping to have this much done four years ago.

“While it’s taken a long time, we are now making great strides forward,” continued Chabot. “And we’re this close to coming to an agreement on the development project. Regardless whether it’s this developer or another one, we’re committed to moving forward.”

Depending on the developer’s concept and the expected “plan-tweaking” and negotiations, it is possible yet that the town and the Parks Companies may not agree on the final plan.

“We are in agreement to exclusively negotiate with this developer and we have until December 31 to complete a Master Development Agreement with this developer, and we can extend that agreement if we wish,” said Donald Sydnor. “But if we find that we’re not making progress at that time, we can go with another developer. But the plan (regardless of the developer) would have to be the same type of multi-use concept that has been agreed on.”

And that plan will presumably include a percentage of residential units, a sticking point to many local residents who declare that Cambridge does not need any more condos on Cambridge Creek.

“The original concept plans discussed in the early 2000s included condos. They had to be there to make the project viable,” Sydnor said.

In other words, whatever plan is agreed on, it has to be able to carry itself financially. Hotel rooms are too seasonal to be depended on for a steady income. This is why the Hyatt also has condo living, restaurants, shopping and a golf course.
“We don’t even know, until we get the concept plan from the developer, to what extent residential housing is used in the plan,” said Chabot. “We’ve heard what the consensus of feeling was, and the developer has to make the project work. The Request for Qualifications actually identifies that whatever we come up with it has to be financially viable, or nobody is going to do it. The developer’s not going to do it, the state’s not going to do it, and the city is not going to be able to do it at a cost, with no returns. The developer has to incorporate the vision, and still have a return on investment. So there may be some shifting of what the community study said, and we want to see what the developer’s version of that is; and we may see some shifting of what the concept is to match better with what the town wants.

“It’s like when you’re building a house, and you work with an architect. You tell him what you see, and he visualizes what he thought you said, then you work it out.  And that’s really where we are right now.”

What about the protests from townspeople who fear that new retail opportunities at the Sailwinds property would take away from the businesses in downtown Cambridge?
“What we want is the best use of that property, one that would support our main street, our downtown, and the other areas of Cambridge,” said Councilman Robert Hanson. “My understanding from those restaurateurs (in downtown Cambridge) was ‘Bring it on. It’s not going to hurt us, it’s going to help us.’”

Creating a vibrant waterfront attraction in Cambridge would give visitors more of a reason to stay in town, to increase the length of their visit or even come into the city of Cambridge for the first time.

“We will see increased investment in our community, we will see a strengthening of our community as a destination,” said Chabot. “So we’ll see more visitors come in, and we’ll see more activity in our community because of the components that are included in (the developer’s plan). There will be a diverse mix of them, but one that will be right for this community, not one that works somewhere else. This will be a Cambridge community, not a re-hash of something that worked in Baltimore.”

Paul Clipper is the editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at pclipper@newszap.com.

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