Thousands will drive through Park Heights and its blight en route to the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on Saturday and others may have sped through on the way to Sinai Hospital.
But as questions loom about the future of the Preakness at Pimlico, which abuts Park Heights, Mayor Catherine E. Pugh is demanding that more attention and resources be dedicated to the neglected northwest neighborhood.
She offered a public update Thursday about how the city will leverage millions in public and private investment to lure more development to the area, including a large central parcel. That will attract more people beyond the major anchors — possibly to a new year-round entertainment venue at Pimlico that Pugh envisions.
More than $100 million in public money already has been dedicated, mainly to acquire and clear vacant buildings and lots and build a school that will open in the fall. Millions in private money have been spent on four housing projects and more pledged to affordable, market-rate and senior housing. The city is studying building a new library.
“There is a lot of activity behind the fences,” said Pugh in an interview Wednesday about Park Heights, a priority since she was elected in 2016. “This area of the city deserves the investment. It’s been neglected for decades.”
At the heart of the city’s 2006 master plan for the neighborhood is a 60-acre parcel that failed to attract a master developer in 2016 that city officials believed could handle the job. But officials plan to issue a new request for proposals in July for 30 acres, and Michael Braverman, the city’s housing commissioner, said they’re expecting higher-caliber developers.
Officials want a developer to build up to 200 single-family homes on the site and maybe add some other uses.
And while the area receives casino proceeds designated for community support — about $6 million in the current fiscal year — Braverman said officials hope to limit public incentives. They believe developers will be attracted by investments already made in the area.
City leaders also are banking on an expanded program from LifeBridge Health that will provide incentives to workers to buy homes in the area. Lifebridge’s Sinai has had a Live Near Your Work program for years, with 30 employees receiving grants of up to $5,000 to purchase homes in the city since 2015. But the hospital now plans to enhance the grants for some properties in Park Heights for a limited time.
Martha Nathanson, LifeBridge vice president of government relations and community development, said that with development of the area finally picking up steam, the health system wanted to offer the support. LifeBridge also has bought 20 acres of Pimlico’s property and plans to build an outpatient center there, though Nathanson stressed that hospital leaders also want to see the race course transformed into a year-round entertainment destination.
“It’s important for us to be a catalyst and support the redevelopment of property and be an economic engine for the community,” she said. “The health of our patients and the healthcare system is directly related to our community.”
The Stronach Group, owner and operator of Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Pugh said the city has been increasingly relying on community anchors, including the city’s hospitals, to promote their areas. That includes Johns Hopkins Hospital to the east and the University of Maryland Medical Center and other facilities to the west.
She also touted relationships with community groups. Recently Park Heights Renaissance and Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc. joined with Sinai to form the Northwest Baltimore Regional Neighborhoods Partnership to pull resources and accelerate residential and commercial redevelopment.
Mitchell Posner, Comprehensive Housing’s CEO, said he’s been pleased with the city’s current efforts.
“This mayor put a new emphasis on getting things done in Park Heights,” he said. “It’s a heavy lift. This is going to take all shoulders to the wheel.”