The city is rolling out a series of events ahead of the 144th Preakness Stakes, even as the legal battle to keep the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown in Baltimore continues.
At a press conference this morning to announce the events, Ex Officio Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young was asked about the engineering report that led the Maryland Jockey Club to close the Old Grandstand section of Pimlico Race Course.
He said code enforcement officials met at Pimlico with representatives from the track and received a portion of the report. And while he did not dispute the claims of deterioration of the oldest section of the structure, Young emphasized the conditions arose “because of years of neglect and deferred maintenance.”
“I mean, they just neglected Pimlico,” he later added, “because they don’t want the race to stay in Baltimore. But the Preakness belongs to Baltimore, and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure Preakness stays right here in Baltimore.”
Conditions in the timber-and-steel grandstand, a portion of which dates to 1894, will worsen if the matters go unaddressed, he said.
Bill Hecht, CEO of U.S. Real Estate for the track’s owners, The Stronach Group, told Baltimore Fishbowl today the decision to decommission nearly 7,000 seats was based on the safety and security of employees and fans.
“[W]e would have thought that the City would have instantly agreed with our original report and not have spent time and resources to prove such,” he said.
City inspectors were on-site Monday to examine the third division of the Old Grandstand–the last section of the open-air seating that is furthest away from the finish line–and Hecht said he expects they’ll reach the same conclusions as Faisant Associates, the engineering firm Stronach contracted to conduct its study.
He also challenged the idea the building is deteriorating because of neglect, echoing comments made to Baltimore Fishbowl last week that the building is well past its useful life.
“It’s a false narrative that the facilities have been neglected. Pimlico is over a hundred years old and certain facilities, like the grandstand in the third division, have been exposed all that time to the elements,” he said. “Both our engineers and Maryland Stadium Authority have concluded that it is in need of major repairs or replacement, which in either case is prohibitively costly.”
Maryland Jockey Club has submitted an application for permits that include preliminary plans for ensuring safety and crowd control at the race. Young said city engineers will be on site this week to conduct an assessment.
Fans who bought tickets to the Old Grandstand have until May 1 to exchange them for comparable seating at no additional cost.
Also at today’s press conference: City Solicitor Andre Davis assured he is proceeding with a lawsuit against the track’s owners to gain control of Pimlico and the race itself. Brought by Mayor Catherine Pugh in March, the complaint more or less alleges the same things Young said: Stronach has purposefully neglected Old Hilltop while investing resources in its other Maryland track, Laurel Park.
The suit was amended to take out references to a bill that would have authorized the Maryland Economic Development Corporation to issue $120 million in bonds to turn Laurel Park into a “super track” and, implicitly, the future home of the Preakness, Davis said. The legislation died during the Maryland General Assembly session.
“We’ve been in touch with counsel for the other side, and we’re hoping… to have some serious conversations with them about going forward,” Davis said. “State law says the Preakness must be in Baltimore; that’s state law.”
“And so how we reach agreement,” he continued, “and resolve the ongoing dispute, of course, will depend on the good faith of both sides and how we are able to persuade them that is in both their best interest and the best interest of Baltimore City that the Preakness remain in Baltimore at a refashioned Pimlico development.”
Alan Rifkin, attorney for the Maryland Jockey Club, Pimlico and the Preakness Stakes, said the suit “is wrong on many levels, including that it is entirely preempted by state law.”
He continued: “And, it’s is no way to initiate discussions. We’ve made it very clear to the City that as soon as it withdraws its unsupportable lawsuit, the sooner we can begin discussions with the City, State and all stakeholders.”
Oh, about those events. In the lead-up to the Preakness, the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts will be hosting happy hours and concerts, lunchtime festivities and a children’s race, culminating in a festival at the Inner Harbor with fireworks. An official celebration has not taken place before the race “in several years,” Young said.
The happy hours, scheduled every night on the week of the race from May 13-16, will be held at Center Plaza at 110 W. Fayette St., and include live music, drink specials, a crab race, games and more. See the full schedule here.
And during the day from May 15-17, Harbor Market (101 E. Pratt St.) and Pratt Street Market (100 Light St.) will have games and music from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. for the lunch crowd.
On May 15, kids will compete in sack races and bouncy ball races as part of the Pee Wee Preakness at Patterson Park, from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. The event will also include performances by Baltimore Hoop Love and One-Step MagiCompany, crafts and other activities.
Topping it all off is the Race to Preakness Inner Harbor Party & Fireworks Finale on May 17, the Friday before the race (also Black-Eyed Susan Day). The party includes music from Lanham, Maryland, resident and “The Voice” contestant Funsho, local indie rockers Super City and Latin group Zakke, food, drinks, drone racing and, of course, fireworks. All of it will take place at West Shore Park from 5-9 p.m. The event is presented by the Maryland Jockey Club.
BOPA CEO Donna Drew Sawyer teased the announcement of even more events in the Park Heights and Pimlico neighborhoods near the track, including a permanent art installation.
Ongoing battle and all, Young said he is excited for the race, and that there are celebrations for people young and old.
“I’m excited about Preakness,” he enthused to the assembled reporters. “Everybody here should be excited about Preakness.”
And he said he hopes to stop by one of the happy hours.
“Not a real drinker, but I’ll be there and take a drink or two.”