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Preakness belongs in Park Heights

About 60 residents of Park Heights rallied in Annapolis to keep the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in their Northwest Baltimore neighborhood. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun video)

As enticing as puzzles are, they only work when every piece is combined in perfect harmony. When you fail to add a piece or take a piece away the picture is incomplete — as would be Park Heights without the crown jewel of the Triple Crown: the Preakness. For over 140 years, the second stop of the Triple Crown has called Park Heights home, laying its claim in the community since 1873. With roots that deep, a Park Heights without a Preakness is not fathomable by any stretch of the imagination.

I grew up in Park Heights. I am a graduate of Pimlico Elementary School, which is a few blocks away from the race course. When I was young, I can remember piecing together my first 500-piece puzzle. I had to be diligent, intentional, and keep an eye on the big picture to assemble the complex arrangement of single pieces into one. Years later, as a delegate for the 41st Legislative District, nothing has changed. The same tenacity and diligence I used as a child must be applied, by all stakeholders, to keep the puzzle piece that helps to complete the Park Heights community in place.

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At its peak, the Park Heights community boasted over 60,000 residents as compared to its near 30,000 today. In the 1970s, the population increased but development decreased — causing a bevy of social issues plaguing any potential of progress.

Today, 75 percent of children in Park Heights are being raised in single-parent homes, 14 percent with no health insurance, and a whopping 20 percent are unemployed. The redevelopment of Pimlico can be used as a major piece in solving the obliterated picture of systemic poverty in Park Heights. Roughtly 27 percent of African-Americans in Park Heights live either at or below the national poverty line. Jobs from construction to hospitality could help cure these ills and radically shift the economics of Park Heights for the better and benefit future generations.

The solution is not puzzling by any sense: Use Pimlico and the Preakness to spur investments in a community in need. In the 1870s, the opening of Pimlico race track spurred the development of accompanying restaurants, hotels, entertainment venues and other businesses, which economically anchored the community and provided jobs and honest living for residents. History can repeat itself for the better.

Renovating Pimlico and keeping the Preakness is not only about keeping our history of almost 150 years intact, it's also about improving quality of life for Park Heights residents, creating jobs, offering an opportunity to those without opportune circumstances, and it’s a chance to bring hope to a community that is ready for sustained revitalization. It’s time to complete the puzzle.

Tony Bridges (tony.bridges@house.state.md.us) represents 41st district, where Pimlico Race Course is located, in the Maryland House of Delegates. He previously worked for Park Heights Renaissance, the community development corporation for the area, and is a resident of the Glen community which is adjacent to Pimlico Race Course.

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