BOWIE — In a recent letter to members of the Maryland General Assembly, the Bowie City Council has expressed its desire to acquire the property comprising the Bowie Race Track, esteeming it a top priority.
The Jan. 7 message was directed to Maryland State Sen. Douglass J.J. Peters (D-District 23) and state delegates Geraldine Valentine-Smith (D-District 23A), Marvin Holmes Jr. (D-District 23B) and Ronald L. Watson (D-District 23B), and outlined the council’s primary intention to use the 180-acre property for “public open space preservation and recreation uses” with additional green space.
A community meeting between the Bowie City Council, state lawmakers and residents in the Bowie vicinity held on Jan. 4 at Kenhill Center was designated to discuss the future of the Bowie Race Track property.
“We hope the property can serve as a community amenity within our city and help satisfy the recreational needs of our growing population,” the draft letter said.
The City of Bowie is seeking county and state funds to make the project possible.
“Furthermore, the city is willing to enter a future Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Bowie State University (BSU) to ensure they also may use the property for public recreational activities,” says the letter.
The Stronach Group, an entertainment and real estate company, based in Canada, currently owns the race track property, in addition to Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore and Laurel Park race track.
According to the City of Bowie, the race track owners plan on divesting the property to some combination of the City of Bowie, Bowie State University or another owner. The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) may also be a part of the deal if the property is divested.
The possibility remains that the land could be sold for private development, but the final decision will be left up to the Maryland state legislature, the city said.
For the Stronach Group to divest the race track property, a deal would have to come together so that executives with the company would feel comfortable enough to need the property no longer.
According to a video published by Bowie resident and historian Mike Rauck, for the future of the property: (1) Legislation must be approved by the Maryland General Assembly, which convened on Jan. 8 and will run to early April; (2) The funding mechanism would have to be finalized and approved as additional casino revenues are being requested for the project. (3) Legislators must bear in mind that funding for the project will compete with funding for roads and schools – two major concerns among Bowie council members and residents.
Another topic of concern is how the plans for the property acknowledge the history of the property. The track opened for horse racing on Oct. 1914 and grew in popularity up through the mid-20th century, attracting crowds from all throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.
As horse racing declined in popularity, tracks all throughout the state began to close.
The last horse race at the Bowie track occurred in July 1985. The race track remained opened for the next 30 years as a training center, closing in 2015.
“We’re here to hear from you,” Mayor Tim Adams said to the audience to begin the meeting.
Peters said he has worked with the city of Bowie in various capacities for the past 22 years, but this race track project, in particular, has been “in and out, up and down, back and forth.”
In early October 2019, representatives of the City of Baltimore and The Stronach Group reached a tentative agreement that would keep the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore while bringing significant upgrades to Laurel Park.
Under the agreement, The Stronach Group would give the Pimlico site to the City of Baltimore, or an entity established by the city, for community development purposes in and around the track and the Sinai Hospital area. An estimated total of $375.5 million would be spent to service and repair both Pimlico and Laurel.
In March 2019, Stronach Group officials spoke to the Bowie City Council about their plans to invest $40 million to make the Bowie Training Center (formerly the Bowie Race Track) a state-of-the-art training facility.
“This early proposal appears to be no longer under consideration due to opposition from the City of Baltimore and many members of the General Assembly,” says a city of Bowie webpage.
Stronach’s latest proposal seeks to address Baltimore’s concerns, preserve Maryland’s storied history of horse racing, and upgrade the infrastructure to modern racing standards.
However, the new proposal “does not include any long-term plans to use the Bowie site for training, although the facility may be reopened for training while improvements are made at Laurel and Pimlico.”
The Maryland General Assembly will need to approve the plan by passing legislation entitled the “Racing and Community Development Act of 2020” for it to move forward.
According to the City of Bowie, the bill would involve: moving Stronach training and stable operations to Laurel Park; improving Pimlico and Laurel (financed by Maryland Stadium Authority bonds); transferring ownership of Pimlico to the City of Baltimore; keeping the Preakness Race at Pimlico, and Stronach divesting itself of the Bowie property.
“Pimlico’s going to get the money, and Laurel is going to get the training centers. We’re not going to support (the bill) unless we get what we want,” Peters said at the meeting.
Correspondingly, Valentine-Smith said in reference to herself and her colleagues, “our job… is to listen today and to go back to Annapolis, and to make sure this Racing and Community Development Act has in it what we need.”
The meeting attracted about 250 residents, who suggested a variety of options for the site, including open space, recreational facilities, community garden space, living classroom experience for local schools, environmental sustainability and a racing history site with ownership by the City of Bowie, BSU or the M-NCPPC, or a combination of these options.
Many residents expressed opposition to additional housing or any use that would augment traffic on Race Track Road.
According to the council’s letter, the City of Bowie is serious about its public stewardship responsibilities and creating opportunities for an array of community recreational amenities.
“A Phase II Environmental Assessment will be necessary to evaluate the situation, and adequate financial resources will have to be identified by the study, as well as to complete any related remediation,” the letter concludes.
“If environmental problems are found to exist, the city would only be willing to take title to the property when all required remediation actions become fully funded.”