In the four decades Maurice Braxton has been cutting hair in Park Heights, he said he’s watched the neighborhood change for the worse. But the master barber at Park Heights Barber Shop is hopeful the latest proposition to revitalize Pimlico Race Course could reverse the surrounding community’s fate.
“I got faith, I got hope that this ain’t gonna remain the same forever,” he said.
Braxton is among the Park Heights residents and business owners who say they’re largely optimistic about the $424 million proposal to overhaul the nearby Pimlico Race Course — a plan that could revive the dilapidated horseracing track, add amenities to the neighborhood and create jobs.
But they don’t want city taxpayers on the hook for the hundreds of millions it could cost to rebuild the historic complex, a site that dates to 1870.
The Maryland Stadium Authority released Thursday a study that suggests tearing down Pimlico’s current facilities and rebuilding them, along with adding amenities such as a grocery store, a hotel and other shops.
While some neighbors said those features could be helpful, they were more interested in the prospect of jobs the revitalized campus could bring.
Overlooking the race course from a relative’s stoop on Belvedere Avenue, Sara Keaton, 57, said she wants to see any jobs created by the proposed construction and development go to local residents.
“I think they should have first picks,” she said. “This is our city — we need jobs.”
The racetrack is surrounded by six neighborhoods. Pimlico Good Neighbors incorporates the complex and houses to the west, which are adjacent to Arlington; Glen sits northwest of the track, with Mount Washington to the northeast; Levindale is situated east of the course; and Central Park Heights lies to the south.
The median household income for neighborhoods immediately surrounding Pimlico Race Course was $30,611 in 2016, according to the latest data from the Vital Signs report of the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance-Jacob France Institute at the University of Baltimore.
Ralph Holloway, 66, said he would like to see the Pimlico Race Course remain as it is, but he supports redevelopment if it benefits surrounding neighborhoods.
“I’m for it, as far as development to lift the community up,” said Holloway, who grew up in the neighborhood and has lived there more than 50 years. “We need to be uplifting the neighborhood, instead of tearing it down.”
When it comes to retail, Holloway said developers would have to be careful to avoid creating competition with existing retail businesses.
While the neighborhood is dotted with corner stores and small markets, Edna Robinson, 58, said she’d like to see a grocery store incorporated as part of the redevelopment, as the study suggested. The closest one to her home on Wolverton Avenue is about a mile away, she said.
Aside from retailers, longtime residents like Holloway and Ronda Missouri, 58, said they hoped to see a restoration of attractions and activities for children, such as the libraries and recreation centers they enjoyed in their youth.
“I think it would be great for this neighborhood,” Missouri said. “I’ve been in this neighborhood 50 years and I’ve seen a lot. It’s time for the new.”
Tiffiny Taylor, a manager at Kaylah’s Soulfood on Park Heights Avenue, was more hesitant to back the plan. She said the redevelopment could be a positive for the neighborhood, but she wanted to wait to see how a Pimlico overhaul plays out.
“We won’t know until it happens,” she said.
She and others said the owners of the track, The Stronach Group, should front the cost for the project — not taxpayers.
It’s unclear where the Preakness would be held during any renovations, but The Stronach Group has previously considered relocating the second leg of horseracing’s Triple Crown.
Local residents overwhelmingly said they want to see the race remain at Pimlico in the long term because of its history in the neighborhood and the economic boost it provides.
“Preakness is a part of the community,” Braxton said. “You can’t take or destroy that.”
When Braxton came to Park Heights in 1978, he said diverse shops, grocery stores, pharmacies and other businesses flourished in the neighborhood.
“When I first came up here, it was like paradise,” Braxton said. “We had seven barbers and everybody from every walk of life been through them doors.”
Since then, he said, drugs have destroyed the neighborhood.
He’s been waiting a long time for change. But, Braxton cautioned, a refurbished race course won’t solve the neighborhood’s woes alone.
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“You need to fix the people, too,” he said. “But I still believe there’s a whole lot of good people.”