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Topgolf Could Help Revive Entertainment District Near M&T Bank Stadium

August 15, 2017
Maybe, just maybe, the long-awaited sports and entertainment district near M&T Bank Stadium and the Horseshoe Casino is coming together.

For nearly forever, the Carroll-Camden industrial park area has been, well, industrial. M&T Bank Stadium opened in 1998, and forward thinkers in Baltimore envisioned the area to the south changing into a destination that would bring people -- and their disposable dollars -- to town for more than just football games.

That didn't happen for more than 15 years. But then the Horseshoe Casino opened on Russell Street in August 2014, and momentum has, albeit slowly, been building.

Two sports bars have opened between the stadium and the casino, and there are plans to reopen the iconic Hammerjacks at the corner of Russell and Ostend.

And, according to a story in the Baltimore Business Journal, there's a proposal to put a Topgolf facility at the site of the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter on Stockholm Street.

Dallas-based Topgolf operates 30 high-tech driving ranges and entertainment centers in the United States, including one in Germantown, Md., opening in 2018, one in Loudoun County, Va., and one in Alexandria, Va. (which the company plans to relocate to National Harbor in Prince George's County).

Topgolf's first facility was opened outside of London in 2000. The Alexandria location, opened in 2005, was Topgolf's first in the United States.

Topgolf is not your father's driving range, where you go to pound balls at distant flagsticks, or junked cars or the little cart that's driving around to scoop up the range balls.

Think of Topgolf as high-tech target golf, with a strong social component.

Players at a Topgolf facility hit golf balls embedded with microchips at light-up targets. The microchips relay data back to where the players are, enabling scoring on how far players hit the ball and their accuracy.

Meanwhile, everyone who's not playing can be ordering food (including meats smoked and pecans candied in the on-site kitchen) or drinks, and generally having a millennially good time.

"It's really fun, it's really interactive," said Morgan Wallace, a Topgolf spokeswoman. "We have TVs, we have live music, food, entertainment. There's something for basically all of your senses when you go to Topgolf."

Wallace would not confirm that there is a deal in place to come to Baltimore, but she said Topgolf is planning to open seven to 10 company-owned locations throughout the next few years, and Baltimore is very much on its radar.

She also said the privately owned firm has opened facilities in locations that aren't yet established as entertainment centers as well as locations that are already built up.

"There are a lot of things that the real estate team takes into account," Wallace said. "Things like proximity to highways, school districts, income, the amount of people moving there, businesses that are there. There's a lot that they take into account when determining if that area can support a Topgolf venue."

Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, said he could not comment on a deal that isn't done. But he said he thinks Topgolf belongs in Baltimore and would do great in that location.

"Most top cities are attracting Topgolf," he said. "I believe we belong in that group of cities.

"There are many locations that could work for Topgolf in the city, including the casino district. We look forward to working with them."

Every Topgolf location employs about 500 people, according to Wallace, including kitchen staff, wait staff and a golf professional.

Wallace said even though the biggest group that Topgolf sees on a daily basis is 18- to 34-year-old males, they draw everyone from kids who have never swung a golf club to senior citizens who are there to get their daily activity.

"We really have a wide variety of people," she said. "It truly reinforces that you can come to Topgolf whether you're a golfer or not. About 37 percent of our guests are non-golfers.

"You don't have to be into sports to enjoy Topgolf."

And that's what those envisioning an entertainment district around the Horseshoe Casino are hoping.

These things certainly take time. The Verizon Center, home of the Washington Capitals and Wizards, opened in Chinatown in 1997, and it took nearly 10 years for the area to become the restaurant and entertainment district that it is today.

Nationals Park opened in 2008 on the Anacostia waterfront in southeast Washington, D.C., an area that was filled with vacant lots and industrial facilities. Sound familiar? It's still not Georgetown, but a stadium that brings at least 20,000 fans to the area 81 times a year has certainly helped propel the area.

Baltimore officials can only hope the redevelopment of the Carroll-Camden area is so successful

Issue 236: August 2017