By Zach Sparks
Chesapeake Sports and Entertainment Group (CSEG) President Mark Burdett was met with consternation in November 2017 when he shared his organization’s grand plans for Bayhawks Village.
The complex would have brought a 10,000-seat stadium for the Chesapeake Bayhawks lacrosse team, 20 turf fields for youth athletics, a hotel and restaurants to the 544-acre property that was formerly home to Crownsville Hospital Center.
Herald Harbor resident Janet Holbrook told the Voice in February 2018 that “it seemed like they wanted to build Disney World in my neighborhood. I know that sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s a huge complex.”
Burdett, who grew up in Severna Park, said there was a glaring need for fields to accommodate the burgeoning industry of youth sports and for a smaller stadium the Bayhawks could use. The team currently plays its home games in Annapolis at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, which seats more than 34,000 spectators. The Bayhawks averaged 4,169 fans for home games in 2018.
With direction from Bayhawks owner and general manager Brendan Kelly, Burdett and his team noted the community’s feedback and revised the concept, which is now called Chesapeake Park.
Their design expunged the access point from Crownsville Road and Generals Highway, instead asking the state to add an interchange from Interstate 97 to Farm Road as the sole entry point. They added hiking and biking trails bordered by picnic areas. They kept 360 acres of open space, with access to the abutting Bacon Ridge Natural Area. To acknowledge the hospital’s nefarious history of physical and mental experimentation on black patients, CSEG added the Say My Name Memorial.
Removed, for now, are the shops and hotel. Four turf fields were added for a total of 24.
The new plan appeases Anne Arundel County residents, Burdett said, because it means less traffic and more environmental preservation than the old plan. CSEG envisions it serving groups as close as the Green Hornets in Severna Park and as far as Virginia and Delaware.
Yet it’s a stark difference from the solar farm proposed by the Generals Highway Council of Civic Associations, which represents roughly 24 communities. Before taking office as county executive in December, Steuart Pittman championed the solar farm plan.
Burdett praised Pittman’s intent to protect the area. With the state spending about $1 million annually to maintain the site, Burdett also sees a better opportunity.
“He has some uber-green thinking,” Burdett said of Pittman. “We’re all for the parks and the trails, but there has to be some economic engine.”
Burdett said he expects Chesapeake Park to generate, at full operation, more than $40 million annually for the county and state. “It’s no longer going to be a tax burden,” he said.
Pittman wants Anne Arundel County to acquire the property from the state.
“We understand that the state is completing a feasibility study via the Maryland Stadium Authority and we look forward to that report,” Pittman said. “The administration's vision for the property is one that is centered on preservation and passive recreation.”
Speaking on behalf of the Generals Highway Council of Civic Associations, president John Hamm said the Crownsville community does not favor the new plan more than the first one.
“We proposed [the solar farm] at that forum Steuart Pittman ran before the election,” Hamm said. “We had 94 people in attendance, according to Steuart Pittman’s website. To our audience in attendance, we asked who’s in favor and who’s against [Chesapeake Park]. Overwhelmingly, the people came out against this commercial development.”
Hamm doesn’t expect the state to approve the single-use exchange of I-97, the one component CSEG most needs for Chesapeake Park to be built. Without that exit, traffic would be intolerable, Hamm said. In the 12 years he has lived in the Cranberry Woods community, traffic has worsened.
“I can’t get in and out of my neighborhood safely during rush hour,” Hamm said. “I can’t go left. I have to go right and turn around. It takes about 15 extra minutes.”
If the project is approved, the Maryland Stadium Authority could lease the stadium to CSEG. Since 2004, the site and its 69 buildings have been mostly vacant.
“Not only is there an asbestos and lead [problem], but there is a rodent infestation,” Burdett said. “… No one wants to say that out loud.”
Most of the tenants are nonprofits or treatment centers — Anne Arundel County Food Bank, Gaudenzia Drug Treatment, Hope House Treatment Center. Under the original Bayhawks Village concept, those groups may have been displaced. CSEG now aspires to accommodate the nonprofits, which Burdett called “vital,” and offer jobs to the people they serve.
“They can literally walk out the door and find a job on campus,” he said.
CSEG is preparing a financial report to present in mid-January. Burdett believes that it will forecast the promising potential of Chesapeake Park.
“The word developer has been created as a negative word,” Burdett said. “There are 800 square feet of existing development on the property today and that environment is fallowed. … There’s parking lots, barns, a sewage treatment plant. Our project is 69 percent of that number. We’re not bringing more development to Crownsville Hospital. We’re bringing less development.”
For Chesapeake Park to have a future, Burdett will have to change the community’s reaction from consternation to excitement.
“If the hospital grounds had to be rezoned and later the Bayhawks have to fault on the deal, the state would be stuck with the property,” Hamm said. “It would be one bad move after another. We’re not against lacrosse. This is just not the right location.”
For more information, visit www.chesapeakepark.com or find Chesapeake Park on Facebook and Twitter.