Many Prince George’s County lawmakers won’t support a Pimlico deal in the General Assembly unless they get what they want for the Bowie Race Track — and based on public testimony at a meeting Saturday, that is some public ownership and keeping the property as open space.
Hundreds of people turned out for the meeting, with many saying nothing should be added that will make traffic worse along Racetrack Road.
State Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters told the crowd that the plan won’t have Bowie area lawmakers’ support without assurances about the future of the Bowie track.
“We’re going to not pass the law unless we get what we want because they need us,” Peters said.
When the General Assembly returns to Annapolis Wednesday, legislation to facilitate an agreement between The Stronach Group, owner of Bowie Race Track, Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park and Baltimore is expected to be a key goal for several lawmakers.
If approved, the The Racing and Community Development Act of 2020 would keep the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore and revamp Pimlico while also investing substantially in Laurel in Anne Arundel County, all without using general state funds.
However, the plan announced by officials in October doesn’t include the Bowie property, which The Stronach Group as said it plans to sell or transfer.
Peters and the three delegates representing the Bowie area joined members of the Bowie City Council at the meeting Saturday to hear directly from residents about the future of the property.
Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith said any change at Bowie wouldn’t occur until for years, after the prospective improvements at Laurel are completed. However, she said it is important to let lawmakers know now what the community wants.
She said in her talks with Stronach they have mentioned public use of a portion of the property.
“Our strength is in working together as a delegation, 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 because this is the leverage,” she said. “Once this piece of legislation moves, telling us to wait; we’re going to lose our leverage.”
On Monday, the Bowie City Council will vote to send a letter to Peters, Valentino-Smith, Del. Ron Watson and Del. Marvin Holmes formally stating their interest in acquiring 180 acres of the racetrack property for a recreational facility.
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In it, they plan to say they are willing to sign an agreement with Bowie State University to allow it to use the property for recreation.
Hundreds of people turned out for the Saturday meeting. Many residents said they did not want to see development on the land, said nothing should be added that will make traffic worse along Racetrack Road and talked about preserving the site’s unique history and environment.
“The traffic on that road is insane,” said Twana Raney, who has lived on a curve along Racetrack Road for 12 years. “I can’t tell you the number of times I call 911 because someone has flipped their car on the fence or any number of things.”
Meadowbrook resident Patricia Seaton talked about hearing frogs in the spring on walks near the track and watching an eagle fly overhead. Another speaker said the parcel has a patch of habitat lush with a monarch butterfly’s key food source: milkweed.
Another speaker discussed Bowie’s historic role in the thoroughbred racing industry; many shared memories of the track from their youth.
“It’s an amazing space that needs to be preserved. And in the mornings when I’m driving past the racetrack I get to the spur and sometimes the racetrack is in a mist,” Seaton said. “It’s almost like you can see the history coming back alive.”
The Bowie Race Track opened in 1914. It was known for winter races, according to a video produced by Bowie Living’s Mike Rauck, with the slogan “If it snows, Bowie goes.” Racing at the site stopped in 1985; it became a training center, which then shuttered in 2015.