Does anyone want this racetrack? NASCAR: State, county officials should take regional approach to wandering project.

March 09, 1998

IF AN AUTO RACETRACK is indeed to be built in Anne Arundel County, or anywhere else in Maryland, economic development officials need a more systematic approach to finding it an appropriate site. Otherwise, the developers will just spin their wheels, running from one potential site to another, frittering away time and good will.

We have already seen a glimpse of this debilitating process. Middle River Racing Association originally sought to build its track in the Essex area, but concerns about access and community opposition led the group to vacate eastern Baltimore County to shop a site in Anne Arundel County. MRRA's choice at Russett, west of Fort Meade, fueled opposition from the community. Now, it is exploring the old Kennecott Cooper refinery site in Pasadena and other acreage west of Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

In terms of job creation, a racetrack is not a semiconductor chip manufacturer or a pharmaceuticals plant. Nevertheless, tracks in such outposts as Watkins Glen, N.Y., or Talladega, Ala., have generated an identity for these towns and millions of dollars in economic spinoff. MRRA's project might augment Baltimore's well-established identity as a sports town. It could also generate millions of dollars in tourism revenue and taxes.

It is time for state and county officials to determine once and for all whether this track is worth pursuing. If they conclude it is, they should provide whatever technical assistance they can to MRRA. If they conclude it isn't, they should part company, and MRRA could look elsewhere.

This is an example of where regionalism is crucial. It already has, to some extent: When MRRA realized the Baltimore County site would not work, the Greater Baltimore Alliance, a regional marketing group, played a role in finding alternatives.

The alliance and state and county development officials should continue to help identify sites in the Baltimore-Washington corridor that would meet MRRA's criteria, allow easy access for spectators and minimize disruption to communities. The group could also assist in building a consensus to move this project through the approval process. Allowing it to founder harms this region's reputation and ability to attract businesses.

Pub Date: 3/09/98

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