Timonium fair, track to stay at site $1.2 million in improvements are approved by board


Maryland State Fair officials have discarded proposals to move from its 90-acre site on York Road.

And squabbling among the 31-member board of directors about the future of racing there has come to a halt.

The panel has endorsed a plan to continue racing indefinitely at the half-mile Timonium oval during the 10-day state fair and is embarking on a vigorous improvement project that includes a $1.2 million renovation of the track's 34-year-old grandstand.

"Once and for all this should put to rest all the rumors that we are going to move," said Howard M. "Max" Mosner Jr., the fair's general manager. "Every year we open up, it's the same old story: When is Timonium going to close?"

The decision to remain at the York Road facility came after a 1 1/2 -year study was conducted by a 10-member planning committee, which met 18 times. The group listened to real estate, engineering and marketing analysts and hired a consulting firm, Economic Research Associates, which specializes in the management of state fairs.

The committee that made the comprehensive study was chaired by John H. "Jack" Mosner Jr., chairman of the Maryland Racing Commission and included Timonium board members Gerry Brewster, Charles Fenwick Jr., Marlin Hoff and Austin Kenly. "We also wanted some outside input and solicited the help of Russell Rourke, a former secretary of the Air Force, and Michael Chesser, senior vice president of the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.," Jack Mosner said. Also sitting on the committee were board president F. Grove Miller, John Tortura and Max Mosner.

The study was initiated after a disastrous 1990 racing season. Opening day was canceled after a severe thunderstorm washed out the track. Then during subsequent cards, a number of horses broke down and horsemen were reluctant to race their animals over what they termed "unsafe" track conditions.

The committee looked at other sites "both in Baltimore County [such as Hayfields and the old Montrose School] and outside Baltimore County," Brewster said.

The value of the Timonium property is placed between $50 million and $60 million, said Jack Mosner.

"If we wanted to move and reproduce the existing facilities and infrastructure such as water, electric and sewerage, well, you just couldn't do it for that kind of money," Mosner said. "And in the present economic climate, we'd be silly to build a track just for 10 days of racing."

Concurrently, a proposal from Baltimore financier Ed Hale to build a sports arena on the site fizzled and the weakening economy also brought less interest from other developers.

Brewster said the completion of the Light Rail system will help Timonium's parking problem.

Jack Mosner said the outlook for racing at Timonium is bright "as long as the horse population holds up. But we are going to be affected like every other track in the country by the declining number of horses."

Mosner added that the board has also approved another $3.3 million in improvements to other areas of the Fair over the next seven years.

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