Bowie’s racetrack had been the site of horses, stables and tickets, but a General Assembly proposal may soon replace it with a public park.
State Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Dist. 23) of Bowie plans to introduce a measure in the General Assembly that would allow for the sale of the Bowie Training Center to the city by changing a law that requires the site’s owner to keep the racetrack open as a training facility.
The closure makes sense as the Maryland Jockey Club, which operates the center, loses about $2.2 million to $2.4 million a year operating the facility, said Tom Chuckas, club president. The facility is expensive to maintain as the club is solely responsible for maintaining the facility, paying taxes on it and keeping it properly insured, Chuckas said.
“There’s significant tradition and history at Bowie,” he said. “From our perspective, it’s sad that were closing Bowie but everything changes. Times change and Bowie [Training Center] needs to close.”
City leaders have been negotiating with Prince George’s County and state leaders since late last year over establishing a framework for redeveloping the site, which is about 130 acres. The center opened as the Bowie Race Course in 1914 and became a training center in 1985.
The Maryland Jockey Club, which operates the training facility as well as racetracks at Laurel and Pimlico, is required to keep the training facility in operation as a result of a deal passed into law in 1992, said David Deutsch, Bowie’s city manager. The training center has been used less and less over the year with the center, which has about 15 people on staff and has enough stalls to support 900 horses, now only having about 600 horses kept there for the past five years, Chuckas said.
Closing the Bowie Training Center has been a part of the club’s announced plans to consolidate its operation. On Dec. 18, the Maryland Racing Commission approved a 10-year plan from the club that envisioned the closure of the Bowie Training Center and the construction of 300 stables at both Pimlico and Laurel allowing for year-round stabling near the racing tracks.
Drafts of Peters’ legislation call for the city, county and state to determine the value of the land by hiring outside firms to appraise it and then subtract the cost of any environmental cleanup needed, Peters said.
Bowie Mayor G. Frederick Robinson said he is optimistic the General Assembly will pass the legislation this year.
“Something is going to come out of this session, because I don’t think anyone wants this to go on another year,” he said.
Initial estimates put the value of the land at around $2 million, Robinson said. That cost would possibly be split among multiple sources, officials said. Bowie’s portion of the cost could potentially be paid using the roughly $1 million the city receives under the state’s Program Open Space, which provides funding for public recreational areas, said Bowie City Councilman Todd Turner (At Large).
The current thinking is that the city would own the land or have control of the property, Peters said.
“They’re the ones who are putting sweat equity in there,” he said.
The earliest the facility could close, barring legislative action, would be Jan. 1, 2014 Chuckas said.
Should the legislation pass and a price be agreed upon, the city could potentially take control of the property this year, Peters said.
Multiple officials expressed interest in turning the facility into a park. It would most likely take about a year for the club to remove its materials and for the city to figure out what to do with the site, Robinson said.
“The prudent thing to do would be to study the best use,” said Bowie Councilman Dennis Brady (At Large). “I would expect we would take a couple of years to do studies.”