Baltimore is getting a new sports attraction and a rugged stretch of real estate between the Baltimore Horseshoe Casino and M&T Bank Stadium is taking the first step toward revitalization.
Topgolf, a Dallas, Texas-based company that specializes in facilities offering a high-tech golf experience as well as dining and entertainment, announced May 8 it will build one of its golfing emporiums in Baltimore just north of the casino.
The Topgolf site is at Warner and Stockholm streets on six acres of land that it will be buying from the city. Construction is expected to start next year with a 2020 opening.
Topgolf already operates 41 facilities around the world, with 38 in the United States, including in Las Vegas.
What visitors can expect is a 21st century version of the old driving-range concept but with technology and competition variations that make a traditional driving range seem quaint at best.
Visitors hit special golf balls with RFID chips from launch bays at various targets spread across a 215-yard "outfield." The technology embedded in the balls allows them to be assigned to a specific player and also enables points-scoring so players can compete against each other in various contests.
Topgolf bills itself as a place where beginners can compete on a level playing field with more expert players. Plus, even visitors who don't have much interest in golf will be able to enjoy the food, beverage and music offered at Topgolf.
Typically, a Topgolf facility includes about 65,000 square feet dedicated to the golf concept, restaurants, bars, live music and big-screen TVs with a capacity of 1,100 to 1,200 people. There are also spaces for parties and corporate gatherings.
With Baltimore mayor Catherine E. Pugh and other city dignitaries in attendance at the announcement for Topgolf, there was an emphasis on what it all means for the portion of Baltimore that has been called a Southern Gateway along Russell Street. Topgolf represents the beginning of an entertainment district that has always been central to the aspirations of the city and the casino.
"The vision was always … that Horseshoe Baltimore would serve as a catalyst for job creation, a catalyst for economic development, a catalyst for revitalization of the Southern Gateway to the city," said Erin Chamberlin, the casino's general manager.
The casino is just several hundred yards south of M&T Bank Stadium, with Warner Street running north-south part of the way between the two, but much of the land is currently a stretch of parking lots and not much else.
"What we have been focused on is creating a pedestrian-friendly corridor on Warner Street," Chamberlin said.
A critical mass of entertainment options in the Warner Street area could certainly benefit the Horseshoe. In the most recent casino revenue figures released by the state, the Horseshoe's revenues were $21.75 million for April, a decrease of 11.5 percent from April 2017.
Obviously, the casino wants to change that trend, and so there are plans to enliven and energize the area around the casino. Exactly what might come next along Warner Street is still unclear, but the Horseshoe's owners have been busy buying land parcels along the road, Chamberlin said.
Topgolf COO Craig Kessler contends that the new golf attraction can provide a significant boost to a nascent Warner Street pedestrian corridor considering the facility is expected to bring in 500,000 visitors a year while employing about 500 workers.
"We're not in the business of stamping out Topgolfs all across the country," Kessler said. "We're in the business of bringing not only jobs but a sense of purpose to the community where we engage."
Baltimore is an especially exciting opportunity for Topgolf, he said, because it represents one of the more densely urban areas, including the nearby football stadium, where the company has brought its brand of sports-themed entertainment.
"It's just a great place for us," Kessler said.
The area where Topgolf will build is currently occupied by the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter, but the animal shelter is being relocated to a new, larger and more modern facility in the Cherry Hill neighborhood.
There may be more plans in the works for the Warner Street pedestrian corridor, but right now, Topgolf planners, Horseshoe casino executives and city officials are basking in the good news they were able to announce.
"Bringing people to this area," the Horseshoe's Chamberlin said, "for things that they can't get anywhere else in the city or in even in the area -- which is the case with Topgolf -- is what we need to focus on first."
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Topgolf