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Bay replica to be converted to mall

Obsolete Chesapeake Bay model building will be transformed into a service-only facility for boats

A colossal but unused working model of the Chesapeake Bay on Maryland’s Kent Island, molded in concrete in the 1970s and covered by 14 acres of steel sheds, is being converted to a marine services mall that, its creators say, will house every marine trade a boater might need and provide indoor, heated winter storage for more than 1,000 boats up to 60 feet long.

The facility, once known as the Chesapeake Bay hydraulic model, sits 24 feet above bay level in Stevensville on the western shore of Kent Island, about four miles across the bay from Annapolis and three miles south of the Bay Bridge.

Queen Anne’s County, which owns the property, has leased it to R.W. Marsh Enterprises. Robert W. Marsh, the company president, also heads Warehouse Creek Yacht Sales in Kent Narrows, which claims to be the nation’s third- largest dealer of Cruisers Yachts.

The first tenants will be working in the facility, named Matapeake Maritime Center, by the end of the year, according to Kevin J. McLaughlin, Warehouse Creek’s director of operations. R.W. Marsh Enterprises will be the landlord and will move Warehouse Creek’s headquarters to Matapeake, he says.

Marsh describes the facility as “one-stop shopping, everything in boat repair in one location; the largest storage facility on the Eastern Seaboard, maybe the world.”

“[The old model of the bay, built by the federal government] was this immense, massive boondoggle,” Marsh says. The facility was dedicated in 1976, with scientists hired to keep the salt in its water at the precise level of the Bay water and with pumps that replicated the tide on the bay. It was to be used to study the Bay’s ecology.

Almost as soon as the facility opened, however, computer modeling made the bay model obsolete, and the building closed in 1983.

Marsh’s company has agreed to pay the county annual rent beginning at $100,000 a year and reaching $250,000 by 2010. The cost of converting the model into a mall is budgeted by Marsh at $8 million.

Marsh said the attraction of the facility for the marine trades industry is that he will be able to charge reasonable rents in a time and place where condominium and other residential development has driven up the cost of waterfront property. Marsh will build concrete ramps at a nearby station of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and use hydraulic trailers to haul boats from the water and transport them a few hundred yards to the Maritime Center.

“Matapeake is service only, not a ‘boatel’ or marina,” McLaughlin says. There will be no slips, except those to hold boats until they are brought inside for work or storage, he says.

Boat owners will be able to “get a stanchion re-welded, a propeller fixed and sails repaired in one place,” Marsh says. “Imagine the efficiencies by having all that in one place.”

Marsh is looking at a market that, in 2000, reportedly had 22,000 registered boats on the bay’s western shore alone between Baltimore, to the north, and Herrington Harbor to the south.

The first of four buildings — a 504-foot by 112-foot structure to house marine trades — will be built this year, followed by two 200-foot by 500-foot warehouses and another, final building that will be a twin of the first, McLaughlin says.