In all of this week’s talk about Pimlico Race Course and the future of the city’s beloved Preakness, it’s important to keep something in mind: we’re not just talking about the future of a racetrack, we’re talking about the future of its surrounding Northwest Baltimore neighborhoods.

That brand new study by the Maryland Stadium Authority says the track needs maybe $300 million in renovations or its owners might move the Preakness to Laurel Park, effectively killing the 147-year old Pimlico, which already feels as if it’s on life-support most of the year.

You move the Preakness, you’re turning the track into a ghostly plot of land awaiting new life.

But what kind of life?

An upscale mix of residences and shops that might mirror a project like the Village of Cross Keys?

A low-cost housing sprawl that might mix the working class and the Section 8 impoverished?

Or something else?

The choices are important because the geography’s too big, and too well-situated, to sit vacant if Pimlico were to shut its doors – and in its current state, the track’s not just a sporting venue, it’s a buffer zone.

On one side of the buffer are such long-stable neighborhoods as Mount Washington and Cheswolde. And below the track, that stretch of Park Heights from Belvedere Avenue down to Park Circle that started falling into crime and disrepair half a century ago while one mayor and city council after another made big, empty promises about massive renovations – and then did absolutely nothing.

This is not exactly a new bulletin, is it?

Anyone venturing along that stretch of lower Park Heights finds it appalling to see the scores and scores of abandoned, falling-down homes on what was once one of the city’s proudest boulevards.

How does a city let such a thing happen to itself?

Baltimore’s new mayor, Catherine Pugh (shown above), has talked about investing state and federal money into southern Park Heights. This week, in response to the Maryland Stadium Authority report, she also talked optimistically about keeping the Preakness at Pimlico.

In a large, foreboding sense, the future of the surrounding neighborhoods depends upon the future of the track.

 

A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books, most recently “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age” (Johns Hopkins University Press).

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