Officials broke ground Friday on the Laurel Park Station development — located adjacent to the Laurel Park racetrack — that is meant to revitalize the Route 1 corridor in Howard County.
The 63-acre, mixed-use development will be built out from the renovated MARC train station and include 1,000 residential units, 127,000 square feet of retail space and 650,000 square feet of commercial/office space.
The development, located north of the city of Laurel, will have 22 acres of open space and feature walking trails and a kayak launch on the Patuxent River, according to Amy Friedman, a spokeswoman for The Stronach Group, the company developing the land.
Ryan Homes will be at the helm of housing construction and expects 220 of the 1,000 units, which will be condominiums and town houses, a community garden and a sport park to be completed by 2020.
Canadian-based developer The Stronach Group owns Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, which hosts the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown. Stronach plans to redevelop Laurel Park into a “super track” capable of hosting high-profile races such as the Breeders’ Cup and perhaps the Preakness, which will be run May 18 at Pimlico.
The Stronach Group has been working toward concentrating its live racing in Maryland exclusively at Laurel Park, which has engendered divided political support. In the recent General Assembly session, a bill backed by the company that steered state funding toward Laurel but not Pimlico failed to pass.
The bill drew condemnation from Baltimore city officials who read it as a sign the company wanted to move the race from Baltimore to Laurel, which is located on the edges of Howard, Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties.
In spring 2017, CSX and the Maryland Transit Administration agreed to add three morning and three evening stops at the Laurel MARC station on the condition that multiple improvements to the existing platform and parking would be made, according to documents attached to passed Howard County legislation.
The Howard County Council voted to create a special taxing district in 2017 that allowed the area to have tax increment financing.
At the time a councilman, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball voted against the legislation, citing concerns about the special taxing district, the potential for a TIF and the lack of community support, the Howard County Times previously reported.
"No formal application for a TIF has been filed by the developer and no TIF for Laurel Park has been issued by the county,” Ball spokesman Scott Peterson said in an email.
Ball declined to take a stance on the potential move of the Preakness to Laurel Park.
Laurel Mayor Craig Moe also declined to take a stance on the race’s possible move but said, “If the state legislature decides to move [the Preakness] to Laurel, it will be a benefit and asset to the greater Laurel area.”
The total economic impact of the Preakness, including both direct and indirect expenditures, came to $38.2 million in 2017, according to a state report.
The Laurel Park Station project site is located along a two-lane road, which often bottlenecks, Moe said. Public transportation “will help alleviate car traffic but there will be some impacts we might have to work through,” he added.
“We look forward to working with Howard County as well as the state to express our views as the project moves forward.”
Lisa Markovitz, president of The People's Voice, a county civic watchdog group, said though there is “obvious benefit of being near public transportation,” there is still concern about the 1,000-unit project’s impact on traffic, schools and health.
“The bigger [these projects], the broader they reach,” she said. Public transportation “doesn't mean people aren't going to be driving around on these roads.”
The county estimated the public improvement projects around the development, which include a pedestrian tunnel, station improvements, site utilities and two parking decks, would cost $43.3 million.
The developer is still evaluating the financial cost of phase one, a spokeswoman said.
State Sen. Guy Guzzone, whose district includes the area being redeveloped, said in a statement the development is a “great example of smart growth.”
“Creating connections is a key goal of development throughout the state, and The Stronach Group’s vision has connectivity at its core.”
“We see Laurel Park Station as transformational for North Laurel, Route 1 and the greater southern Howard County area,” Stronach CEO Bill Hecht said in a statement. “The scale of the project sets the stage for a major impact on the local economy resulting in community interaction, active living and environmental sustainability.”
Though Stronach has yet to do an economic analysis of the impact on the area, Hecht said, “This is clearly going to have a large impact on the community due [to] the MARC station combined with the mixed-use development.”
The economic impact hasn’t been quantified, but “it’s abundantly clear that it will have a big impact,” he added.
Baltimore Sun reporter Doug Donovan contributed to this article.