In a ceremony that started with a golf cart entrance and ended with a putting contest, city officials touted the official arrival of Topgolf, the national chain of interactive driving ranges, to a lot between the Horseshoe Baltimore and M&T Bank Stadium.
As Baltimore Development Corporation president and CEO William H. Cole IV joked in remarks, “It may be the worst-kept secret. But we are here.”
Caesars, owners of the Horseshoe, has recently bought up parcels between the casino and the football stadium, according to multiple reports. And Topgolf’s interest in a Baltimore location dates back to 2016.
Last month, an item appeared before the Board of Estimates that would move the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter to a new location in Cherry Hill to make way for the driving range and entertainment complex, which has 41 locations across the country.
With the i’s finally dotted and the t’s finally crossed, elected officials and representatives from both Topgolf and Caesars came together at the site, currently a parking lot, to tout the project as the first step in a planned entertainment district.
Representatives from Topgolf said they hoped to have the facility open by 2020.
Even with the news still fresh that Horseshoe reported another drop in revenue–the only casino in Maryland to do so in April–Caesars Entertainment regional president Erin Chamberlin said ownership’s vision for the area was just started to take shape.
“We’re just really getting started now,” she said.
She and others said the complex would be a catalyst for further development in the area.
At the start of her remarks, Mayor Catherine Pugh took the time to defend regular trips by elected officials to Las Vegas for the retail conventions, a favorite target of the Baltimore Brew and others.
“Now, you all think that those Vegas trips don’t really mean anything,” she said. “We went out there and this is what we saw. I had folks who went out there and said: ‘You know what? We can bring this back to Baltimore.'”
The mayor also said the project would create 500 new jobs in the city. Reflecting on all the change that has occurred in the area over the years, Pugh said this particular part of town used to be seen as a pass-through.
“But now, what we see is economic development, job creation and this will be the first Topgolf–I’m going to say on the East Coast, I know that may not be true,” she said.
“When you’re mayor, you get to say these kinds of things,” she joked about her declaration.
Lumping this development together with her administration’s announcement of a multi-million dollar fund to spur development in neighborhoods and the recent selection of 42 neighborhoods as Opportunity Zones, Pugh said the entertainment district would be another step to adding to the city’s tax base.
Cole said the eventual entertainment district, and other developments nearby, like Hammerjacks, would meet BDC’s vision for connecting the casino and stadiums to the larger downtown area.
“That connection is a big step closer with today’s formal announcement,” he said.
Representatives from Topgolf said there were details about the design of the complex that still needed to be finalized. But the facade would likely be facing Warner Street, with golfers hitting northeast or east toward the harbor waters.
The typical 215 yards needed for the build-out was available on the site, a parcel that the company’s COO, Craig Kessler, said provided a unique opportunity.
“We don’t have a venue that’s in a densely populated urban environment that’s next to an NFL stadium,” he said.
The company said it expects 450,000 visitors to the Baltimore location in the first year it opens.
It’s a little bit different than your typical driving range. Topgolf features light-up targets and high-tech golf balls that are used for nearly a dozen interactive games. But more than that, Topgolf offers multiple bars, eateries and live entertainment.
Baltimore officials are apparently into the game, though.
City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young told the crowd about a trip with an untold number of elected officials to a Topgolf facility in Virginia, where he said he fell in love with it, even though he’s not a golfer.
“I’m probably the only elected official that can’t golf,” he said. “But I’m pretty damn good at simulating golf. I can do that.”
And, he noted, “I was better than [Councilman] Leon Pinkett.”
Pugh said she would stop by to play “every now and then,” as her busy schedule allows.
The press event closed with a putting contest between the mayor, Chamberlin and Kessler. Nobody made a hole-in-one on the small green. And Pugh was the only one to finish out, so there was no real winner, so to speak.
The mayoral three-putt. pic.twitter.com/C159M4yuYJ
— Brandon Weigel (@brandon_weigel) May 8, 2018
After her first putt came up short and leaked left, causing Pugh to shout “Oh come on back over here,” she lined up a two-footer–only to hit that just short.
She tapped in to high fives and applause.