Sanjay Ayre, left, of 2 Eagle Sports & Entertainment, posed with Quincy Wilson, who he deemed “The fastest high schooler in the world,” at Ayre’s recent East Coast International Showcase. The event was held at the Prince George’s Sports & Learning Complex. Photo: Sanjay Ayre

To track and field professionals, participants and enthusiasts, the need for an indoor track facility in Howard County is obvious.

The only large facilities available that can accommodate major, money-generating events are both four hours away: the Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex, in Staten Island, N.Y,; and the Virginia Beach Sports Center, in southeast Virginia.

Therefore, the many millions of people who live between those locales want a more accessible elite regional facility. The best area option today is the Prince George’s Sports & Learning Complex, in Landover, which is adjacent to the former FedEx Field. It’s the only indoor facility in Maryland.

So Howard County Executive Calvin Ball has taken action: he’s included $2.5 million for a design study in his proposed fiscal 2024-25 budget for a $30 million, 100,000-square-foot facility on 6.5 acres at Elkridge’s Troy Park.

That addition to the local sports scene would allow the county to tap an underserved market for what a 2021-2022 survey by the National Federation of State High School Associations revealed was the most popular sport for girls (456,697 participants at 17,028 schools) and second most for boys (569,262 participants from 17,070 schools).

Study time
Step one would be for the Howard County Council to approve Ball’s budget and start the study for the facility, which would rise beside Troy Hill Business Park on land that is being used for outdoor athletic fields and a forested area.

Eric Teisch, senior director of business development with Howard County Tourism, said “It would be huge to have an indoor track facility so we can continue to hold meets year ’round and fill our hotel rooms with visitors who dine at our restaurants.
“When I worked with the County’s Department of Recreation and Parks, it was a much tougher sell to pitch events in the cold weather months,” said Teisch, “but an indoor track facility would change the game.”

He mentioned that when he visited Portland Oregon, earlier this spring, executives “were looking to have winter events in Florida,” due to the warmer weather, “but if I could have pitched them an indoor facility in Howard County they would have been interested, 100%.”

Teisch also pointed to new numbers from Rec and Parks that revealed that the average event (of any kind) that comes into the county “has a direct spend of $550,000.” Therefore, he said that it “would be wise to for the local powers that be to act sooner rather than later. There is heavy demand in the state and other jurisdictions are interested in building such a facility, so whoever gets the money first” can take advantage of the potential.

“But the accessibility and affordability of Howard County,” he said, “means that other state jurisdictions won’t be able to beat what we have to offer.”

Tax revenues
As for Ball, he held a press conference at the recent East Coast International Showcase Tournament Training Camp that was held at Howard Community College. He feels a new Howard facility would provide a strong regional and even national draw.

“We would hope to host about two dozen track events per year,” said Ball. “We already have $60 million of direct spending from 115 or so existing athletic events, so we think the new facility could lead to several million additional dollars in tax revenues.”

Today, the decision is in the hands of the County Council. “I think the Councilmembers are trying to wrap their heads around the need, impact and the cost” of the project, Ball said. “I think most people who are affiliated with sports would find it similar to the need for a new two-sheet ice rink; $1 million for the design of the project that is also included in my budget proposal. (Councilmember Opel Jones of District 2 did not return a request for comment for this article by press time).

“So I’m excited about investing in infrastructure and public facilities,” he said, “not just for Elkridge and the county, but the entire region.”

Numbers game
Firmly behind the plan is Olympic Silver Medalist (Jamaica, 2000) and World Indoor Champion Gold Medalist (2004, Budapast) Sanjay Ayre, CEO of Maple Lawn-based 2 Eagle Sports & Entertainment. He has staged various track and field events at River Hill, Long Reach and Reservoir high schools in the county and also held the Showcase training event at HCC.

Ayre, too, feels the county has lost a large amount of tax revenue due to its lack of an elite indoor track facility.

“I would have liked to have had the actual Showcase meet here,” he said, “but we had to hold it at the 400-meter flat track at the Prince George’s County facility to accommodate 1,200 athletes from 115 participating schools.”

Ayre noted that concerned parties are hoping for a modern facility with new features, such as a hydraulic banked track to service the state, the region and hopefully beyond. “That would bring world class and local events to Howard and positively impact the economy in a variety of ways,”Ayre said, “and could eventually be expanded.”

A have-not

The hope today is, said Ball, that the County Council will approve the money for the design and the facility will open in 2027.

“Obviously, the region’s schools and universities would use it,” Ayre said, “but we can show the public that it would also benefit them as a venue for various events and even walking in the winter.”

But the key selling point, as often is the case in Howard, is its central location. “A four-hour drive is not a big deal to most track athletes, fans, students and their families,” he said, “but the County being centrally located between New York and Virginia makes it a prime-time location for this project.”

So building the facility, said Ayre among others, is the move to make.
“What’s funny today is that we have so much to offer, but we lack a top-line project,” he said. “We have turf fields and Bermuda grass at every County high school, but no indoor track facility.”

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