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Waterfront Director’s Memo: Cambridge City has Killed the Project

Originally airing on WHCP 91.7fm on Monday 5/6/2024
By News Director Jim Brady

Listen to the interview:

Read the transcript:

This is Mid-Shore Mid-Day. I’m Jim Brady. Immediately following a lawsuit last week by the city of Cambridge, Matt Leonard, executive director of Cambridge Waterfront Development Incorporated, issued a memo declaring that the city’s filing suddenly had killed the deals CWDI had been working on.

“The city’s actions have likely killed the Cambridge Harbor Project for this foreseeable future,” Leonard wrote.

In that memo, sent to Dorchester County and state officials but not city leaders, Leonard recited project-by-project, a list of hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars that he said were now losses.

Today we’re examining Leonard’s statements for accuracy and credibility, and the question underlying those claims, namely, were these deals and dollars and jobs actually real?

I contacted Leonard and Angie Hengst, president of CWDI for an interview and an offer. I wanted them to substantiate their claims.

I wanted to ask them why companies they say are involved in various projects at Cambridge Harbor would all bow out within 24 hours of the city’s lawsuit, since the city’s suit simply sought to have CWDI hold off on land sales until it finds a developer in a public process.

I also wanted to ask them why, if, as Leonard said, Cambridge Harbor Project is dead, they’re still pressing on with their lawyers and a roster of other high priced consultants.

And I wanted to make them an offer that would establish whether a hotel deal ever existed. I would agree to contact the hotel company they say made a deal with CWDI – withholding any identifying information – and broadcast the facts of what I found.

Leonard did not respond. Hengsts replied by email, declining my offer to speak with the hotel company.

“Appreciate the thought, but don’t feel comfortable doing that,” She wrote, “We’ve built up a lot of trust with our hotel developer and I wouldn’t want to break that.”

She declined to comment on any other aspect, citing litigation.

Let’s consider that hotel deal. For nearly a year, Leonard has been stating in memos to officials and in interviews that a hotel deal was imminent or would be announced by various dates. Those dates came and went, and still there was no announcement. I asked him about that in an interview earlier this year.

Leonard: It’s the standard things that occur during a large scale land development project.

WHCP: Well, what are the sticking points? Because you’ve gone over all the things that go into it, but all of that’s been hammered out or a lot of it anyway. What are the last details that are keeping you from
announcing it?

Leonard: The attorneys agreeing on the exact legal ease of the contract.

WHCP: That’s it?

Leonard: That’s it. As much as you can imagine when you have attorneys in the room working on the legal ease of things,

WHCP: Do you have a hotel developer that has a brand hotel that they’re building it for, or are you dealing directly with the brand hotel, or how does that work?

Leonard: So we’re dealing with the entity who is the developer and will be the owner operator of the hotel. They work with various national brands. It will be affiliated and associated with a national brand, but they will be the person we’re dealing with. The entity we're dealing with are the developer and long-term operator of the hotel.

WHCP: So when that deal is ready to be announced, will they be able to tell what brands the hotel’s going to be yet? They will. So you’re expecting that to be, when, do you think?

Leonard: The next two to four months, we should be able to make an announcement if everything continues on the path it’s going right now. In his memo Friday suddenly Leonard revealed that long-awaited closing date for the hotel was actually yesterday. That is, it was – until the city sued CWDI. Now, Leonard said the deal “will be canceled.”

However, Friday on his last day as city manager Tom Carroll told me no one would, representing any hotel company had ever communicated with city departments about any such closing. Normally, he said, title companies, lawyers, and others are in touch well before a contract closing to determine the status of the property and any restrictions or payouts that need to be considered.

In documents last year from the CWDI website, Leonard listed a hotel development consultant that CWDI had paid thousands of dollars to advise CWDI. But he has never produced evidence of a hotel firm actually agreeing to build at Cambridge Harbor.

Another point in Leonard’s memo states, the city has jeopardized the promenade project. Leonard claimed that advertising for bids on the project were to have gone out also in May. “It is likely the city’s actions will kill this project,” Leonard wrote in his memo.

Leonard never offers a reason why contractors wouldn’t want to bid or why CWDI couldn’t put the project up for bid since no property transfer is involved.

Similarly, Leonard listed another project wharf repair and improvements that “the city has killed.” Again, none of that work depends on any property transfer. Leonard didn’t explain to the officials receiving his memo what was preventing CWDI from getting the work done.

Curiously, Leonard brought up the deal to sell property to yacht maintenance company declaring the city is killing the yacht maintenance deal.

He states that the closing of the deal has not been scheduled, but was expected by the end of May.

The reason city officials held an emergency session last week and voted to go to court according to their filing was because Leonard had attempted to sell the property to yacht maintenance in a May 1 closing, Carol said Leonard himself, along with yacht maintenance owner George Robinson, showed up last Monday at city engineering offices to attempt to clear what are called mylars or recordable land documents.

Additionally, a title company also contact the city for final documents the previous Friday that were to be ready for May one closing, Carol said.

In what CWDI called a public update on April 18th, one of the selected questions sent to CWDI asked whether CWDI was in breach of the city’s land transfer covenants. Leonard took the microphone to declare that CWDI was not in breach.

Leonard: No, we are not in breach of any contracts or agreements, so we don’t need to do anything to rectify.

However, those covenants require that CWDI select a master developer and as part of the process, post for public review summaries of each developer’s plan for Cambridge Harbor.

Until a master developer is selected, the covenants say, CWDI cannot transfer encumber or sell any of the land that Cambridge contributed to the project.

Leonard and other CWDI members have said all the master developers proposals were unacceptable to them and that they resolved to act as master developers themselves. The agreements with the city have no provision for CWDI to do that.

When asked about posting the actual plans, developers submitted, Leonard has referred to a press release he put out last year declaring that CWDI so-called request for expressions of interest was a success. However, the release contained no summaries of any proposals and no announcement regarding the selection of a developer.

At the end of his latest memo blasting the city, Leonard listed what he called losses under long-term effects.

These included $155 million in what he called total economic impact, 10 to 15 million of additional tax revenue for the county and the city and 270 jobs.

One thing all these numbers have in common, they are made up by CWDI.
Leonard has admitted CWDI in over five years has secured no commercial development contracts. The predictions of jobs, tax revenue and capital projects are all a product of CWDI and its hired consultants.

The public finance firm CWDI hired has produced tax increment financing plans that state the value of the entire Cambridge Harbor project would be less than $120 million. Leonard in presentations to the state, county, city, and the public maintains the project’s value would be over twice that amount. His latest memo doesn’t say where he got the figure of $155 million.

For the city and the county to get that additional 10 to $15 million in revenue that Leonard is now counting as a loss, the entire Cambridge Harbor project would have to sell out completely, and there would have to be 30 years of uninterrupted growth and property values, and CWDI would have to refrain from spending more money.

So far, no buyers have contracted with CWDI. The real estate market has shown fluctuations. And CWDI has spent over 3 million of public funds on consultants and lawyers in just the last three years.

And those 270 jobs? Another projection of CWDI.

So will state officials who have invested over $9 million in Cambridge Harbor concur with Leonard’s conclusions? Or will they regard his memo as an intemperate reaction from someone in a key position on an important public project?

Stay tuned.

This is Mid-Shore Mid-Day.