Officials here hope eventually to attract a commercial venture to about 40 acres of Rocky Gap State Park near the existing casino resort, but at present there are bureaucratic obstacles to such dealings. (See: “Marketing of acreage ...,”Feb. 3 Times-News, Page 1A.)
Great Wolf Lodge considered locating a water park there last year, but the transaction never materialized, and there was more to the matter than just red tape.
Del. Jason Buckel told our reporter Greg Larry that “we could not give the Great Wolf Lodge a clear pathway to obtain the property, get control over the property or lease it or anything.”
Instead, the lodge will be built at Perryville in Cecil County and is expected to open in 2022.
Bureaucracy and red tape involved in using state park land constitute a major hindrance to business deals, and Buckel said private concerns aren’t interested in spending two or three years going through such a process.
Great Wolf is a major operator of family-oriented indoor water parks in the United States and Canada.
This facility would not have been in competition with the proposed River Park at Canal Place, which is expected to include a canoe and kayak docking site near the YMCA on Kelly Road, a whitewater course, viewing area and riverside trail.
Neither would the lodge have had a major impact on the 3,000-acre park, which already is home to the Rocky Gap Casino Resort and an 18-hole golf course.
It turns out that more than mere paper-shuffling was working against Allegany County where the Great Wolf project was concerned.
Estimates are that the $200-million lodge in Cecil County will create 1,000 construction jobs and a permanent work force of 600 full- and part-time employees. The jobs are expected to generate nearly $30 million a year in payrolls and a considerable amount of tax revenue.
The resort will feature 450 to 500 guest rooms, restaurants, shops, a rope course, a climbing wall, activities for children and a conference center accommodating up to 1,000 people. It is expected to draw half a million visitors a year.
Buckel said it is hoped to pass legislation that will speed up the process by which small portions of land like that at Rocky Gap can be conveyed to local ownership.
Still, it wouldn’t be fair to say that complexities in the process involving ownership and use of state park land were all that kept Allegany County from landing a major new water park.
Perryville and Cecil County worked hard to get it, and they had to give Great Wolf a considerable financial incentive to pick them.
The Cecil Whig newspaper reported in January that first off, the state of Maryland had to sign off on designating the Chesapeake Overlook site near Perryville an enterprise zone. This is a federal program that provides tax incentives for use of economically distressed areas.
Businesses that locate in enterprise zones can claim various credits against property taxes and credits for wages paid to new employees in new jobs.
The Whig said, “approval of the enterprise zone apparently weighed heavily on the minds of the resort developer.”
Cecil County offered a a 50% credit on personal property taxes involving business-owned items such as furniture, fixtures and other equipment, tools and supplies that was capped at $4.5 million. A 5% administration fee associated with hotel revenue also was waived.
Perryville created a Hotel Economic Development Incentive Program that includes coverage of up to 100% of hotel taxes for up to 25 years and discounts of up to 50% on personal property taxes for 25 years. It also will help Great Wolf with the cost of public and real property improvements, property acquisition and site development, subject to the state of the town’s finances.
Delaware Business Now, a business newspaper, reported that the tax incentive package offered Great Wolf will amount to nearly $92 million over 25 years.
“Much of that money comes from taking the hotel room tax that would go to Perryville, with the town kicking the proceeds back to Great Wolf as a grant,” it said.
Cecil County is located along Interstate 95. Its economic development people say it offers overnight access to more than 90 million people, making it one of the region’s most sought-after business locations. The same things cannot be said of Allegany County.
Cecil County can afford to make a $92 million investment. We can’t, but that won’t preclude us from making smaller deals that will work well for us.
Eliminating the red tape that discourages us from doing such things as putting a small part of Rocky Gap State Park to good and profitable use also will help considerably.