Neighbors back Pimlico night TV races Track addresses fears of crime, parking, noise

December 16, 1992|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

Another obstacle has been cleared in the effort to bring televised nighttime harness races to Baltimore.

Groups representing neighborhoods in the Pimlico Race Course area met last night with track officials and voiced little opposition to the plan which literally turns the Pimlico plant into a year-round, 12-hour-a-day gambling operation.

"I think we are all sad that horse racing has turned more into a gambling venture than a sport," said Marianna Donisi-McCann, executive director of the Northwest Baltimore Corp., which represents about 35 neighborhood organizations. "But if this is what it takes to keep racing solvent, then we have to go along with it. None of us wants to see the track, the oldest in the country, fail. If they go out of business, then we go out of business. They are an important partner in this community. At the same time, we want to make sure that this is as peaceful and safe an area as possible."

Donisi-McCann said fears in the community included:

* Too many strangers after dark. The track is a place that sells alcohol, and residents want to be sure rowdy patrons do not disrupt their neighborhood.

* Lack of comfort. If lights are to be installed in the track parking lots, residents don't want them shining into their windows. They also worry about increased traffic and parking problems.

Donisi-McCann said she and other community leaders had received assurances from track management that these concerns are being addressed. "It hasn't always been so, and there is an entrenched cadre of people who said night racing would never come to Pimlico [even on television]. But we have come to trust this management and feel we can work with them."

Live thoroughbred racing is conducted at Pimlico about a third of the year in the afternoons and then the plant is used as an afternoon simulcast center when the live races are at Laurel.

But starting in late January, the track will be kept open for thoroughbred simulcasts until 6:15 p.m. A 45-minute lull follows and then televised races from Rosecroft Raceway will be shown until about 11 p.m.

Laurel-Pimlico general manager Jim Mango told the group that only about 500 to 600 people are expected to attend the evening harness simulcasts. "That means about 200 to 250 cars," he said. "Parking will be contained in the lot in front of the clubhouse and, if needed, in the side clubhouse lot. The West Rogers Avenue lot will be closed. Parking will be free. We will install about 40 percent more lighting in the lots and increase the size of the current lighting system about 65 percent. There will be an armed security guard in a patrol stand overlooking the parking lots. There will other increased security, both inside and outside the plant."

The new arrangement will come about if the track takes multiple-signal thoroughbred simulcasts from out of state and signs an inter-track agreement with Maryland's harness tracks. It is hoped that this will reverse current wagering declines of about 13 percent during the last two years.

Jerry Harris, president of the Woodmere Neighborhood Association, said he thinks keeping the track open longer "will be beneficial to the community. They will improve lighting and there will be more police protection, which helps the other business people. If the track makes more money, the community benefits from increased revenues to the Track Impact Fund."

Dr. Russell Kelley, president of the Northwest Baltimore Corp., said the organization has received about $629,000 over the last five or six years, which is used to build new housing, provide scholarships and make other improvements to the neighborhoods. That money comes from a percentage of track betting handles.

Larry Kloze, a member of the Mount Washington Neighborhood Association, said that the night-time harness simulcasts should have "no impact on Mount Washington."

Councilwoman Rikki Spector said that if added traffic comes to the area, it will improve chances for a new interchange to be added to the communities from I-83.

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