A Maryland bank moved yesterday to foreclose on an $11 million loan on developer Mark Vogel's two racetracks and froze the tracks' operating accounts, a move that officials say may threaten next week's opening of the state's harness racing season.
First National Bank of Maryland, which made the loan on Rosecroft Raceway in Oxon Hill and Delmarva Downs near Ocean City, Md., filed the action in Prince George's County court seeking $10.9 million from Vogel and his wife, Judy.
The action came after Vogel, who holds a monopoly on harness racing in the state, missed two payments on the note in December and January. State racing officials say the bank had been pressuring Vogel to sell the tracks since his Sept. 13 arrest on a cocaine possession charge and was moved to action this week after Vogel, who had the properties on the market for between $20 million and $25 million, announced he would not sell them.
Some members of the State Racing Commission said yesterday that the court filing, the first step in a possible foreclosure, casts serious doubts on the ability of the tracks to open as scheduled. Rosecroft's first live races of the season are scheduled for Friday, and Delmarva will open that evening with a simulcast of the Rosecroft events.
"I don't know how in the hell he can open the tracks without any money. I imagine that what we'll have to do is meet with the banks and see if we can work out some way to keep the tracks open," racing commission member Eric Frederick said. The racing commission will meet Wednesday to discuss the problem.
"If the track doesn't open, it's going to hurt hundreds of horsemen, and it's going to hurt the state. I don't like that one bit," commission member Peter Bozick said.
Vogel denied that the bank's action threatens the season's opening. He said he will meet with bank officials in Baltimore on Tuesday to try to craft a solution, and he described the court filing as "not a big deal."
Vogel's attorney, Paul Mark Sandler, said he and Vogel will do "everything possible to resolve his differences with the bank in a manner which will allow a healthy environment for the tracks to continue normal growth, operation and development."
James Murphy, who manages Rosecroft and Delmarva, said "obviously this creates some operating problems, but this shouldn't keep the tracks from operating. This should not impact anything except Mark's ability or interest to sell the tracks."
The developments are the latest setback for Vogel, 42, a flamboyant developer who amassed a $1 billion empire of real estate and racetracks in less than a decade. His holdings stretch from rural Virgnia to Maryland's Eastern Shore and include the $400 million Bowie New Town Center, a minor interest in the PortAmerica project and extensive stretches of commercial and waterfront property.
Since his arrest, Vogel has been hit by a series of court actions seeking repayment of overdue loans. He also lost control of his flagship headquarters in Bowie after a lender foreclosed on an overdue $11 million mortgage. Another of his largest projects, the Villages of Belmont near Upper Marlboro, was placed under protection from creditors under Chapter 11 bankruptcy laws.
The racetracks, which Vogel bought in late 1987 for $11 million, had become his most prized asset and his most tangible hope of salvaging his real estate interests. He placed them on the market soon after his arrest, saying that a sale could produce as much as $15 million in equity that he could use to rescue other projects.
Racing commission members said that a First National loan officer has met with Vogel several times to stress the need for a speedy sale of the tracks. They said the bank was upset about the negative publicity resulting from Vogel's cocaine arrest.
A bank official handling the Vogel loans did not return phone calls yesterday.
Vogel's surprise decision to keep the tracks also caused concern on the racing commission, which is scheduled to consider renewal of the operating licenses for Rosecroft and Delmarva later this month.
Some members said privately that they were unprepared to approve the licenses if Vogel maintained ownership of the facilities.
Soon after his arrest, Vogel relinquished day-to-day control of the tracks after auditors found that he had used as much as $2 million in track proceeds to finance his real estate ventures. Vogel defended the withdrawals, saying he had invested $10 million of his own money in the tracks.
Staff writer Debbie M. Price contributed to this report.