Prince George’s County, state and Bowie officials are discussing the possibility of turning Bowie’s nearly century-old racetrack into the city’s largest park.
Officials from Bowie, the county, the Department of Natural Resources and the Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission met Oct. 2 for talks about the future of the racetrack, located in the 8300 block of Race Track Road.
The financial health of the Bowie Training Center, which opened as the Bowie Race Course in 1914 and became a training center in 1985, is not immediately clear, although officials have speculated that the facility is a revenue drain for the Maryland Jockey Club, as there isn’t enough of a need for a dedicated horse training facility.
“Our primary interest in it would be the development of it as a city park,” said Bowie Mayor G. Frederick Robinson. “Part of it would clearly be developed for active sports, maybe ball fields.”
Tom Chuckas, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, declined to comment due to ongoing internal discussion by the Stronach Group, which owns the facility. The Stonach Group did not respond to multiple calls for comment.
“Our understanding is the company operating it would want to get out of operating it because they don’t need it to support the operations at Pimlico or Laurel,” said David Deutsch, Bowie city manager, referring to two nearby racetracks.
The potential closing of the racetrack left resident Barrington Moore with mixed feelings, he said. In his nine years living next to the track, he said he never enjoyed the smell of animals that came from the training center and believes the area could use more recreational space, he said. However, Moore worried that the site could languish for years if it was closed.
“That’s my biggest fear,” he said. “Unless they knock all the buildings down, you’re going to have vagrants there. It will bring trouble there, and you don’t want that.”
More discussions on the racetrack are planned for later this month, though a date has yet to be scheduled, said Karis King, a DNR spokeswoman. The facility must be kept in operation due to a 1992 state law that requires the track to remain open as a training facility to support the racetracks at Pimlico in Baltimore and the racetrack in Laurel, Deutsch said.
Legislation passed in 2011 gives the state first right to purchase the property should it go up for sale and Bowie gets second right to purchase the roughly 169-acre site should the state not want it, according to state and county officials.
Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) wrote the city and other agencies on Aug. 14 saying the state would not exercise its first right to purchase the facility and called for state, county and city officials to form a workgroup to look at preparing for a future without a racetrack in Bowie.
To allow the racetrack owners to sell the land to the city or state, the General Assembly would either have to repeal the legislation that requires the track to remain in operation or amend it to create a mechanism such as a cutoff date to allow for the site to be sold, Deutsch said.
Establishing a local consensus and financial backing for a redevelopment of the racetrack would be a prerequisite for future legislative action, said Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D-Dist. 23A) of Bowie.
“Any change in the statute would only be successful if the local representatives were supporting it,” she said. “We would have to see assurances that money exists to preserve the property and see it used as open space.”