The Horseshoe Casino gambled that someone would be interested in helping transform a desolate, vacant waterfront lot into what officials hope will be a new entertainment corridor leading to Baltimore’s two sports stadiums.
And on Tuesday the casino’s owners and city officials joined to announce that the bet is beginning to pay off: A Topgolf entertainment complex is set to open in 2020.
The family-friendly facility — and the hundreds of jobs that come with it — is planned to fill a six-acre swath of mostly asphalt in South Baltimore between M&T Bank Stadium and the Horseshoe Casino Baltimore.
Horseshoe officials, who control the land that also includes the city’s animal shelter, helped lure the high-tech driving range to the site, which city leaders say is an integral part of transforming the “southern gateway” to Baltimore. They gathered Tuesday on a property that is now the football stadium’s Lot J.
“We had a vision to be more than a casino,” said Erin Chamberlin, regional president and general manager for Caesars Entertainment Corp., operator of Horseshoe. “We wanted to be a catalyst for job creation and economic development. …This is the city’s next entertainment district.”
Chamberlin acknowledged that Caesars has been spending millions to acquire property around the casino. Dallas, Texas-based Topgolf is the first new tenant in the corridor along Warner Street, running behind the casino, which fronts on Russell Street, the main southern roadway into the city.
She said the group is working with city officials on attracting other entertainment-oriented companies to the still-gritty area that maintains the industrial park aesthetic of its past. The aim is linking the area — over railroad tracks and under highway overpasses — to the the neighboring football stadium and Oriole Park at Camden Yards and, from there, to the Federal Hill neighborhood and the Inner Harbor.
The area so far has lacked much investment abutting the casino. But there is some promised development, including from the partners of a new Hammerjacks, the latest iteration of the venerable Baltimore concert hall and club. It’s planned for the opposite side of Russell Street and is expected to open in 2019. Blocks away there’s separate investment in offices and apartments, helping to fill the gaps.
Topgolf officials say their venue is unique. It has 41 locations around the country (another location is planned in Germantown) and offers high-tech climate-controlled hitting bays. Balls are micro-chipped to show accuracy and distance on TV monitors and allow for competition among players.
Having a Hammerjacks nearby could appeal to the typical Topgolf customers.
Topgolf estimates that more than half of its customers are 18 to 34, They typically arrive in groups of four and stay for two hours, according to the company’s website.
Craig Kessler, chief operating officer for Topgolf, said the Baltimore location is expected to employ 500 people in full and part-time jobs and pump more than $264 million into the local economy over a decade. A groundbreaking is planned for next year.
Kessler engaged in a friendly putting competition with Mayor Catherine Pugh — herself a golf enthusiast — and Chamberlin on a makeshift green.
Pugh, who was joined by City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and other local dignitaries at the event, said she’s not putting all her golf balls in one basket. Rather, she she sees Topgolf as an economic driver and a catalyst to draw more activity to the now-vacant area.
“Topgolf’s arrival in the market represents a major step toward fulfilling our vision of turning the Warner Street corridor into a dynamic entertainment district,” she said.
Much of the property that will become Topgolf now serves as football stadium parking, though a portion houses the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter, or BARCS. The shelter will move to city-owned property in Cherry Hill under an agreement this month that required waiving a public requirement to accept bids for that property.
The overall deal for the land, several years in the works, now needs to be amended to allow Topgolf to take ownership of the parcels directly from the city, according to William H. Cole, president and CEO of the Baltimore Development Corp. The arrangement calls for the casino to hand over its rights to the land for the golf center, with Topgolf paying the city $1.25 million per acre, or $7.5 million. The sale price was set when the casino settled on its main parcel, said Cole.
Topgolf will receive no special incentives beyond tax breaks allowed for creating jobs in a government-designated enterprise zone, he added.
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