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Aqua Mountain Resort Suspends Plans for $50 million
 Water Park Hotel in Garrett County, Maryland

By Sarah Moses, Cumberland Times News, Md.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

May 5, 2009--MCHENRY -- Plans for a new water park hotel near Deep Creek Lake have turned into disappointment as the developer for the Aqua Mountain Resort has suspended the project.

"I understood from the beginning that the chances for a new concept such as an indoor family resort development would be a lofty goal to achieve in Garrett County," Jonathan "Smiley" Kessler, developer, said in a news release.

The $50 million project next to the fairgrounds would have employed about 225 people and paid approximately $5.5 million in local, state and federal taxes. The 188,000-square-foot hotel was designed with 165 rooms, a 78,000-square-foot indoor water park and a 90-unit log cabin community.

The project could have extended the tourist season for the county, said Jim Hinebaugh, director of Garrett County Economic Development.

"I know Smiley's very disappointed," Hinebaugh said. "I'm very disappointed this project isn't moving forward as well. ... I thought it was a good project and it could have had a good impact on the county. It would have helped with the hospitality and tourism industry."

In January, Kessler had said the project would not be able to continue on its own without some public assistance. He said he had met with the county as early as 2004 to find that sort of funding.

"The areas that have successfully developed these attractions have done so by aggressive leveraging of public/private partnerships," Kessler said. "That kind of support has not been forthcoming in Garrett County."

However, County Administrator Monty Pagenhardt had said in January that Kessler never requested public assistance before that time.

Commission Chairman Denny Glotfelty said the commissioners approved a property tax for new businesses locating in the county to give them the chance to get started, but that putting money into private businesses wasn't a county practice.

"The commissioners didn't feel that it was in the county's best interest at this time," Glotfelty said. "Just sad he can't go on with it. It was a good project."

He said that as he is Kessler's neighbor, he abstained from making that decision.

Hinebaugh said even if the public funding had been something the commissioners would consider, this isn't the economic climate for it to happen. The state and county budgets and the private economy in the state the way it is now created a "perfect storm" to cause funding problems for the project, he said.

The undeveloped portion of the property will now likely be up for sale, though 14 log cabins will serve as hotel accommodations when they open in June. The cabins can accommodate up to 130 people in 21 suites.

"I hope that other plans for the site go well," Hinebaugh said. "Hopefully, he will turn it into something."

Contact Sarah Moses at


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