Mayor Chris Cerino and officials from state and federal agencies presided over a grand opening of the newly refurbished Chestertown Marina Friday, Nov. 1 under sunny skies. A performance by the Kent County High School band opened the proceedings, after which Cerino and a number of elected officials lined up on the porch of the new marina center.
The marina was purchased by the town in 2012 after then-mayor Margo Bailey and the town council determined that town ownership was the only way to prevent a future private owner from converting it into condominiums and denying the general public access to the river. Preserving the marina as a public facility also held the promise of boosting the town’s economy by attracting tourists to local shops and restaurants. And it kept alive the connection to the town’s history as an important Colonial port, in its time the second largest in Maryland.
Cerino cited these advantages of the purchase, which took place just before his election as mayor, and gave a brief summary of the process of obtaining the financing and permits for the extensive work needed to restore it. The “day of reckoning,” as he put it, came on July 12, 2016, when Gov. Larry Hogan and several of his department heads paid a visit to the marina. “The place was a flat-out dump,” Cerino said.
It was a 90-degree day, and Cerino recalled that he had dressed in a long-sleeved button-down shirt to impress the governor. But Hogan showed up in a polo shirt, baseball cap and wrap-around shades, at which Cerino said he knew that he could relate to him. The governor walked around the facility with Cerino, who pointed out all the areas that needed work – new bulkheads, new docks, dredging, and much more. Following the visit, Hogan gave a heads-up to the state agencies who were in a position to help support the work, which went forward from that point. Hogan was unable to attend the dedication because of previous commitments, but Cerino said, “He sent the next best thing,” introducing Hogan’s Chief of Staff, Pete Landon.
Landon conveyed greetings from the governor. He recalled the days when the riverside restaurant on the marina property was the Old Wharf, and when the property itself was still known as Kibler’s Marina. He noted that the town was founded in 1706, and was an important port. He added that the dedication coincided with Downrigging Weekend, which along with Tea Party is one of the two most important annual tourist events for the town. He said in conclusion, “This place is open, it’s running, and I invite everybody to look at the boats.”
Cerino cited the importance of Maryland state agencies in making the marina renovations possible. “Without the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, this would not have been done,” he said, noting the grants and other funding the town received from them. He introduced DNR Secretary Jeannie Hadaway-Riccio, who commented on the importance of boating to the state and to the Eastern Shore, with over 200,000 registered boats, and remarked on the goals of promoting tourism and the economy as well as preserving the state’s heritage. Protecting public access to the water and making environmental improvements are key to the DNR’s mission, she said, “So we were really proud to participate and award over $2 million toward this project.” She praised the DNR employees who helped support the project in numerous capacities, and asked those present to raise their hands and be recognized. “This is a benefit to the entire state of Maryland, and we’re really pleased to be a part of it,” she concluded.
Next, Cerino thanked the state Department of Housing and Community Planning for giving the town the Maryland Infrastructure bond, “basically a loan to purchase the property,” and a “significant” grant to begin construction on “that building behind me,” the Chestertown Marina Cerino Center. “DHCD was really huge in helping us get to the finish line here,” he said in introducing DHCD Secretary Kenneth Holt. Holt invoked the Nanticoke Indians who inhabited the Eastern Shore for many centuries, saying that they believed that when humans interact with nature to preserve a river like the Chester and the surrounding forests and meadows, nature responds with “divine gratitude.” He said that Hogan is doing his part to restore the Chesapeake Bay watershed, citing the recent agreement with Exelon to clean up the Susquehanna River behind the Conowingo Dam. He said his department is doing its part to further economic development by giving the town the bond and grants to restore the marina, “ensuring that (the waterfront) remains a cherished public asset for residents and tourists.” He called the marina, with the tall ships in harbor, “a stunning of rich maritime history that suggests the future is very bright.”
“The Maryland Department of Commerce has been really critical to Chestertown for a lot of other projects,” Cerino said, giving as examples the new Dixon Valve warehouse and headquarters, and the department’s support of the arts as an element of economic development. He introduced Tom Riford, Assistant Secretary for Marketing and Communications, whose unit includes tourism, film and the arts. Riford said the marina is located in an Arts and Entertainment District as well as a Historic District, and deserves preserving and telling the community’s stories. He recognized Bernadette Bowman, Kent County’s director of tourism. It’s important to bring tourists to town to spend money, he said, adding that tourists in Maryland last year spent $18.1 billion, a 2% increase over the previous year. Tourists don’t require us to build a new school or a new sewer plant, and we thank them as they leave “with wonderful memories of a great place like Chestertown,” he said.
Cerino introduced the final guest speaker by observing that 75% of the work for the marina “is under your feet,” referring to raising the level of the parking lot to combat flooding. He said that the high tide the night before would have left the lot under 2 feet of water. The U.S. Department of Agriculture “stepped up in a big way” to fund raising the grade of the lot, as well as installing new water, sewer and electrical lines under the surface.
“Without their help, we all might have wet feet right now,” he said, introducing Denise Lovelady of the USDA. “Rebuilding America’s infrastructure is my top priority,” Lovelady said. “It’s infrastructure improvement projects like this that help make our rural communities better places to live, work and in this case, play. Recreation is a very important part of quality of life.” USDA’s Rural Development provided $598,000 in direct loans and two grants totaling $700,000 toward remediating the flooding and stormwater management problems at the marina, she said. She recognized Terry Fearins, the USDA Community Programs Director who worked with the town to complete the project. She concluded by quoting USDA’s new tagline, “Together, America prospers.”
To conclude the dedication, Cerino recognized the many other institutions and individuals who contributed to the completion of the marina project. They included state Sen. Mike Miller, president of the Senate, who helped the town acquire a $500,000 capital grant and a $500,000 bond bill. Sen. Addie Eckart from the lower Shore also signed on to support the bond bill. He also recognized the “foot soldiers” of the various federal and state agencies who worked directly with the town: Carla Fleming, Sandy Pepe, and Donna Morrow of the DNR; Fearins and Lisa Fitzgerald of USDA; Kimberly Lankham of Maryland Capital Grants; Melissa Einhorn of Maryland Bond Bills; Ashley Green, Matt Heckles and Charlie Day of the Department of Housing and Community Development; and Gail Owings, Jennifer Ruffner and Barbara Smith of Maryland Heritage Areas.
Individual donors contributed $1.3 million that allowed the town to match the various grants. As Cerino noted, every dollar they gave was doubled when combined with the grants. Among the first was Michael Lawrence, who gave $100,000 to name the space next to the restaurant “Grassy Mead Plaza” after his farm, in the process encouraging other large donors to contribute. While there were too many donors to name all individually, Cerino mentioned Larry and Wendy Culp, Matt and Joanne Tobriner, the Havemeyer family, the Ingersoll and Stevens families, Tyler and Debbie Campbell, the Fordi family, Chesapeake Bank and Trust, and Main Street Chestertown. Local U.S. Marine veterans and their families, including Peter Sweetser, Belle Valentino, Harry Packard, and Michael McDowell, donated the marina flagpole in memory of McDowell’s son. Anthony Flowers and Landscaping donated the plantings and design for the marina pocket park. Many others are recognized on a plaque in the marina building or on pavers in the walkway, Cerino said.
Cerino also recognized many of the contractors and others who did the actual work, including Dissen & Juhn, David A. Bramble Inc., engineer Kevin Shearon, Yerkes Construction, Bob Ingersoll, SM&T Architects, Max Ruhremund, Gillespie Concrete, Chester River Landscaping. Peoples Bank and Chesapeake Bank and Trust were instrumental in keeping the funding for the project flowing smoothly along with bond counsel Lindsay Raeder of Funk and Bolton.
Finally, Cerino recognized former Mayor Margo Bailey and the council members who were in office at the time of the marina purchase: Mabel Mumford, Marty Stetson, Gibson Anthony, and Jim Gatto. He also recognized the more than 500 residents who wrote letters of support for the project. Paul Heckles and Kay MacIntosh of Main Street Chestertown, Jamie Williams of the Kent County Economic Development office, Loretta Lodge of the Chamber of Commerce, Kristin Owen of the Downtown Chestertown Association, Lani Seikaly of the Greater Chestertown Initiative, and Washington College presidents Shiela Bair and Kurt Landgraf were all active in finding people to write letters and in contacting officials who might help the project. The town staff, including J.R. Nicholson and Chris Wolenik of the street crew and Bob Sipes of the utilities staff. Town Clerk Jen Mulligan, financial officer Amanda Miller, marina manager Samantha Branham, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll and zoning administrator Kees de Mooy.
All the current town council members were present for the dedication, as were County Commissioner Bob Jacob and Delegate Jay Jacobs, all of whom took part in a ribbon cutting that concluded the festivities.
In a brief interview following the ribbon cutting, Chesapeake Bank and Trust CEO Glenn Wilson said, “This is a great day for Chestertown, We live and die in Chestertown at the bank, and we wanted to see what we could do to help the community. Aside from helping with some financing on the project, we gave a $10,000 grant, because when the community does better we’re going to do better.“