Weekly Letter: Crownsville, Preakness, Vegas, and Holiness

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Friday was the first annual conference of the county’s new Nonprofit Center, and to me it was powerful. Over a hundred representatives from eighty nonprofit organizations met in Brooklyn Park at the Chesapeake Arts Center for a full day of sessions on the theme of communications. The keynote speaker was Heather Illif, the dynamo director of the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations, and I spoke before her. 

I went way past the 3 minutes allocated, because I had to explain why I’m so committed to growing our local nonprofits. I talked about my own struggles building and running nonprofits, and about the history of local governments contracting out public services to the private sector. There are the for-profit businesses that get those contracts, but there are also the often overlooked non-profits that have a public mission. I thanked them for their heroic work during COVID and told them that by improving their performance and professionalism, they are delivering for the public every bit as much as government is, and sometimes more effectively.

Check out the Nonprofit Center at 41 Community Place. It will become a major incubator at Crownsville Hospital Memorial Park for the good works that will transform that land into a center for healing.

Speaking of Crownsville, we held a public event there yesterday to sign an MOU with Bowie State University President Dr. Aminta Breaux to “jointly engage in programming, research, internship opportunities, and educational initiatives.” Bowie State is an HBCU that has a long history of engagement with Crownsville, including testimony by their students at a Maryland General Assembly hearing about the conditions endured by patients there. 

BSU has been represented by Dr. Monifa Love, Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, on our Cultural History Advisory Committee for Crownsville, but my hope is that this deeper partnership will bring more young voices, Black voices, and academic voices to the table, and that ultimately BSU will actually have a presence alongside many other great institutions on the Crownsville campus.

As I do every year, I attended Preakness at Pimlico Racetrack in Baltimore on Saturday. I always say it’s the worst day to go to the races in Maryland if you’re interested in horses, because you can’t get near them. But it’s the best day for people-watching. Grown men and women wear clothes - and hats - that they wouldn’t be caught dead in anywhere else, and they sometimes act like they never grew up. I can’t say that bothers me a bit, but I have complicated feelings about the state of Maryland’s horse racing industry and the government’s role in supporting it. 

When casinos were approved by voters in Maryland, a part of the money was dedicated to racing purses and racing facilities. That was to compensate the industry for the transfer of gambling dollars to casinos. How and where that facility money should go has been debated for years, between the owner of the tracks, the organizations representing the local industry (horsemen and breeders), and state leaders. I won’t review the history here, but I will commend Governor Moore and the Maryland General Assembly for resolving that issue when their predecessors could not. 

By next year, the foreign ownership group will be replaced by a new state entity. No new public subsidies will be offered. Pimlico will be rebuilt in a way that benefits the Park Heights neighborhood in Baltimore. A horse-friendly training center will be built outside the city on a farm. Laurel Racetrack will close after hosting the 2026 Preakness, to be followed by environmental remediation and development of the site into what our Region 2 Stakeholder Advisory Committee envisions as mixed-use, transit-oriented development with open space and public amenities. 

There will be fewer racing days in Maryland, so Thoroughbred horses bred and raised on Maryland farms will also take advantage of the purses and facilities in neighboring Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Virginia. 

This plan allows Marylanders to modernize Maryland horse racing, and it sticks to the financing formula that was approved by Maryland voters when they created the casinos. It is the right plan for the horses, for the workers, for the taxpayers, and for the impacted communities. And it only happened because a whole lot of people made compromises, and some very smart people herded them in a new direction.

Sunday morning I flew to Las Vegas. It’s not my kind of city, and my purpose in going might surprise you. I was there for the convention of the International Council of Shopping Centers, and the subsidiary Maryland Real Estate Convention.

Most of the big county County Executives and economic development teams attend, but I stayed away for my first couple of years in office. Not my scene, I said.

I changed my mind once I became fully committed to Plan2040, our county’s general development plan. I came to the conclusion that if I really want that smarter, greener, more equitable future for our county, I better be more engaged with the people who are creating our built environment. 

So on Sunday afternoon and Monday, I did eight meetings in a cabana by a pool with people who are navigating the complex world of creating housing and commercial space in our county. I could have done these meetings back home, but I could not have done the receptions where I was able to connect with a huge assortment of elected officials from other jurisdictions, economic development pros, bankers, builders, and engineers.

I did a podcast interview while I was there called “He’s Holy and I’m Knott” where we talked pretty deeply about community organizing, economic development, and public policy. Podcast hosts Reverend Al Hathaway and Martin Knott assured me that my presence in Vegas didn’t make me less holy. That’s a relief.

Until next week…

Steuart Pittman
Anne Arundel County Executive