Councilman suggests moving fair for slots

Bartenfelder calls holding event in county's east side a 'win-win situation'

General Assembly

January 17, 2004|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore County councilman says he has a solution to objections to building a slots emporium at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium: Move the fair to a different site on the eastern side of the county.

Fair officials embraced the idea yesterday, but County Executive James T. Smith Jr.'s office said it doesn't fit with plans for property development along the Route 43 extension between White Marsh and Middle River.

Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, who represents the area, said he has talked to local business people, fair officials and others about moving the fair and believes the idea is worth considering. A suggestion last year that slots be added to the current fairgrounds drew a sharp rebuke from area residents who said already-congested roads would be overwhelmed by the traffic.

"It's a better location that's more accessible [than Timonium]," he said. "It could be a win-win situation for the fairgrounds, the state, Baltimore County, everyone."

The suggestion to move the fair comes as the Maryland Stadium Authority explores the possibility of financing construction of a state-built racetrack and slots entertainment venture in Baltimore, near Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium.

"We're in the process right now of talking to the political people involved, the business community and other interested parties," said Carl A.J. Wright, the stadium authority's chairman.

Wright said he wasn't aware of the proposal to move the state fair but doubts it could be as good a site for a state-built slots facility as one near the stadiums.

Wright noted the downtown site, about 130 acres on the west side of Russell Street, just south of M&T Bank Stadium, is near the convention center, hotels, interstate highways and rail systems.

Stadium authority officials said Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has not yet asked them to draft legislation to finance the building of such a track. But they say Ehrlich is interested in the idea, which was first presented to a legislative panel studying slots in November.

"I wouldn't be working on this if the governor were opposed to it," Wright said. "Everybody's looking at it."

He said he believes a track near the stadiums could be proposed regardless of what happens with slots - possibly through a separate legislative proposal.

"Sometimes an idea, a project is so right for all parties that it just gets done regardless of the politics," Wright said. "I think this is such a project. It maximizes revenues to the state and city."

He said his agency would need "quick take" authority to acquire the property, similar to that used to build Camden Yards. "Quick take" is an expedited form of eminent domain that is used to acquire private property for public purposes.

State officials would not have to displace businesses or relocate residents if they built a state-owned track and slots emporium on undeveloped property along the Route 43 extension in Baltimore County, fair officials say.

William F.C. Marlow Jr., counsel to the nonprofit Maryland State Fair and a member of the fair board's executive committee, said he is intrigued by Bartenfelder's proposal.

"It would satisfy those people that have been complaining in Timonium about traffic and other perceived problems with the fair, so it's an intriguing idea," Marlow said. "If the state were to build a modern racetrack on that property, along with a first-class slot machine facility ... all the profits would [benefit the] taxpayers."

He added that it would give the state fair more room to grow and more money to sponsor agricultural programs for youth.

But a spokesman for Smith, the county executive, dismissed the idea of relocating the fairgrounds to a portion of the 1,000-acre Route 43 extension site.

"I think that for the community, the property owners and the county executive, this is a nonstarter," said Damian O'Dougherty, the spokesman.

He said the county wants to attract high-technology private industries and high-paying jobs to the site.

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