The 2600 block of Rosewood Avenue, in proximity of the 147-year-old Pimlico Race Course, has been overtaken with rot, decay and weeds.
With only days to go, this neighborhood will be filled with energy and wealth once again as the state’s largest sporting event, the Preakness, is set to get underway. But, as soon as it comes, it will be over and everything will return to normal.
The director Park Heights Renaissance, a Baltimore-based nonprofit, Cheo D. Hurley, has been charged by the city to remake one of its long-struggling communities, Park Heights, which was once a thriving neighborhood that lost population over the past decades.
Park Heights Renaissance has partnered with a developer that will invest $16 million in Park Heights to build affordable housing, but this is only the beginning.
According to city data, over 40 percent of the residents living in southern Park Heights are of working-age, but remain unemployed. The neighborhood is predominantly black and over half of the children are living below the poverty line.
The fates of the horse track and neighborhood are closely related and pressure is growing to do something about the elements plaguing the community. Stronach Group, owner of the Pimlico Race Course, has consistently expressed a desire to dedicate more resources to its thoroughbred horse racetrack in Laurel.
The Preakness was first held by the Pimlico Race Course in 1873 and started hosting the race annually in 1909.
Hurley said if the racetrack operated throughout the year, there would be steady work opportunities for Park Heights’ residents. The Preakness Stakes draws an estimated 130,000 people each year, spending tens of millions of dollars.
However, the Stronach Group has plans to continue investing in Laurel, because it is a more suitable place for a year-round racetrack.
Under a Maryland law, the Preakness must be held in Baltimore with only one exception, an emergency. With blight and crime plaguing the city, Pimlico is being kept from greater success.
“We have more murders around Pimlico than a place like Laurel,” says the chief operating officer of Stronach’s racing division, Tim Ritvo. “We have a security guy, 22 years old, get shot in the parking lot. It’s heartbreaking.”
In June 2015, security guard Kevin Jones was fatally shot in the parking lot Pimlico.
The area around the Laurel track will soon see some major improvements, including a major transit-oriented development, which has already been approved by Howard County officials. The transit system will deliver fans to the racetrack. This energy is lacking around Pimlico, says Ritvo.
“The Kentucky Derby makes nine times what we make on the Preakness,” he ways. “It’s been invested in.”
To keep Preakness at Pimlico, it would cost anywhere between $250 million to $320 million, according to a Maryland Stadium Authority study released in February. The study included plans for upgrading the track’s grandstand and clubhouse, along with a pedestrian promenade with trees.
Mayor Catherine Pugh says communities like Park Heights have been permitted to deteriorate, while city officials proposed special deals and tax breaks to advocate development around the Inner Harbor.
“We are going to target Park Heights,” Pugh says. “As great and wonderful as the harbor is, so is Poppleton, so is Park Heights, so is Midtown, so is East Baltimore.”
The 142nd running of the Preakness is scheduled to kickoff on May 20, 2017.