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Mobtown Beat

Bettor Off?

Residents of Pigtown Tell Annapolis They Don’t Want a Racetrack in Their Backyards

Courtesy Washington Village/Pigtown Neighborhood Planning Council
And They're Off: An artist's rendering of a proposed race track in Pigtown.
Christopher Myers
Race Matters: William Chambers (left) believes a new track in Pigtown would irreparably disrupt the community.

By Christina Royster-Hemby | Posted 8/4/2004

In Pigtown, an 88-year-old woman named Leola Haywood lives in a small rowhouse on Bayard Street. While sitting on an antique couch in her home, Haywood recalls watching the pigs that gave her Southwest Baltimore neighborhood its name being shepherded past her front window when she was around 7 years old—and too scared of the pigs to go outside while they paraded down the street. The house that holds so much history for Haywood is the only home she has ever known. She was born here in 1916. Each of her five brothers and sisters and her daughter was born here, too. Haywood is known in her neighborhood as the oldest African-American woman in Pigtown—and the one with the best memory of the past.

But now Haywood fears she might lose the only home she’s ever known. She says if a much-talked-about Maryland Stadium Authority proposal to build a racetrack in Pigtown catches on with the governor and General Assembly, she thinks she and her neighbors would be displaced.

“Where am I going to go? I’m too old to think about living anywhere else. I’ve lived here too long,” says the woman who was named the “mother” of Pigtown’s 122-year-old Wayman Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church.

On June 30, Pigtown residents who share Haywood’s fears spoke out at a meeting sponsored by the Washington Village/Pigtown Neighborhood Planning Council held at the Montgomery Park office building. At what was dubbed the Community Roundtable Town Hall Meeting, more than 250 citizens from the communities along Washington Boulevard voted 7-3 against opening a racetrack and slots facility in their area.

Shawn McIntosh, executive director of the Washington Village/Pigtown Neighborhood Planning Council, says residents had a right to be concerned.

“You’re talking about a huge area from Ridgely Street all the way to Washington Boulevard, three times the size of Ravens stadium and Camden Yards put together,” McIntosh says.

Indeed, one of the footprints drawn up by the Maryland Stadium Authority for Baltimore Gateway International—a 189-acre racetrack and slots facility—would wipe out seven core blocks of Pigtown that have traditionally been inhabited by African-Americans. Some of the original residents were descendants of slaves or freed slaves who worked at Carroll Mansion and bought their homes after freedom, McIntosh says.

Baltimore Gateway International would obliterate the 1200 and 1300 blocks of Bayard Street, the 1300 and 1400 blocks of Carroll Street, the 1300 and 1400 blocks of Ward Street, and the 1300 block of Cleveland.

“There are actually 160 homes that would be displaced,” McIntosh says. “What this racetrack is proposing to do is to take out the heart of the African-American community here.”

Bill Marker, chair of the June 30 meeting and a former candidate for City Council, lives in Ridgely’s Delight, which is on the opposite side of Martin Luther King Boulevard from Pigtown. If the facility were to be built, he says, it would take out “those acres and possibly more.” Residents fear the area would likely be peppered with parking lots and horse stables as well, Marker says.

“They’ve proposed additional acreage for other buildings, but they haven’t identified those yet,” he says. “I think it’s really languaged to say: If we need slots facilities, we’ll acquire other properties for them.”

But representatives of the Maryland Stadium Authority and the governor’s office say that residents of Pigtown are getting upset about the racetrack idea prematurely. The suggestion to put a racetrack in Pigtown is simply a research project, they say, and Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who has been championing legislative approval for slots at racetracks across the state ever since he took office, has other slots proposals he is focusing on, and Pigtown is hardly on the radar.

“The governor’s slots proposal from last year did not include this [Pigtown] location,” says Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell, referring to a bill that would approve slots at four racetracks: Pimlico in Northwest Baltimore, Laurel in Anne Arundel County, Rosecroft in Prince George’s County, and a track to be built in Cumberland. “The governor still believes that his bill from last year is the best bill for the state.”

But on April 7, a Washington Post article reported that “Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is pushing for a state-owned $400 million racetrack and slot machine parlor in downtown Baltimore . . . a site of nearly 200 acres just off Interstate 95 in downtown Baltimore, adjacent to the Baltimore Ravens’ football stadium.” That article has led some Pigtown residents to fear that Baltimore Gateway International is more than just a research project.

“That [suggestion was made] at the end of the legislative session, when everyone was trying to throw out a Hail Mary to put together a compromise on slots in the last 48 hours,” Fawell insists. “We never formed a proposal [for the Pigtown] site, and I am not aware of any [future] plans.”

And while in January the governor introduced a bill to install video-lottery terminals in six locations along the Interstate 95 corridor, including in Baltimore City, the discussion to put a racetrack anywhere in Maryland could come to an end altogether, if the governor’s slots bill does not pass the next time the General Assembly is in session. Just this week, the Ehrlich administration failed to strike a deal with the House of Delegates on a proposal to put the slots issue before voters in November. Even if there was a solid plan for a Pigtown track, Fawell notes, nothing would happen before the start of the next legislative session in January.

ócting Maryland Stadium Authority executive director Alison Asti says the Washington Village/Pigtown Neighborhood Planning Council knew at its June 30 meeting that “this was just an idea that was floating around—there was no formal proposal.”

Asti also says that should the idea actually progress, “the goal would be to avoid any residential property.” She says that the footprint of the project has changed many times and has never been finalized. Asti describes any discussion about Baltimore Gateway International as “preliminary studies” and “just an idea that was introduced by our chairman,” Carl A.J. Wright.

Maryland state Sen. Verna Jones (D-44th) says Pigtown is split between her district and Sen. George Della’s (D-46th). According to the last map of the Baltimore Gateway International site she saw, Jones says, most of the affected housing would fall in her district. Though she says the road to approval for a Pigtown racetrack would be very lengthy, she says her colleagues in Annapolis (who she describes as “all over the board” on slots and racing issues) need to use caution when considering locations for new tracks.

“Individuals who live there will have to deal with all of the negative influences [that come with gambling], from increased social and illegal crimes, the infestation of drugs and prostitution, petty theft and traffic,” Jones says. “I believe that the best place would not be in an urban residential area. The immediate monetary [gain] here will not outweigh the long-term impact. And to rip apart the fabric of the lives of individuals who have family and history here—if people don’t want it, they shouldn’t be forced to participate in it.”

Longtime Pigtown residents such as William Chambers, known as “Bus” to many of his friends and dubbed the unofficial mayor of the neighborhood by former Mayor Kurt Schmoke, say just the “idea” circulating in the state capital is enough to make them uneasy.

“Ninety percent of us up here are family,” Chambers says. “The core of Pigtown is families that have been here—the grandmothers and the fathers and the mothers, and the children of them people. Once the racetrack would uproot them, there’s no way those people could be dispersed and gather up together again.”

Adds McIntosh, it’s never too early for the residents of the area to make their voices heard on a matter that has the potential to impact the lives of everyone in Pigtown.

“The state can try to downplay this as an issue, and they can lead us all to believe that it’s not an issue, but if we don’t prepare ourselves to fight, it will be too late,” McIntosh says. “We need to be ready to say we don’t want it, just in case all of a sudden Pigtown looks like a great place for a racetrack.”

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