The Maryland General Assembly on Wednesday passed the final version of a bill authorizing $375 million in bonds to build new racetracks at both Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park, ensuring the Preakness will remain in Baltimore and bolstering the state’s horse racing industry for decades to come.
After a 44-1 vote in the Maryland Senate and a 113-14 vote in the House of Delegates on the final day of the coronavirus-shortened legislative session, the bill advanced to the desk of Gov. Larry Hogan.
Per the Maryland Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association, the bonds would be issued through the Maryland Stadium Authority and repaid using subsidies from casinos that go toward building maintenance and boosting race purses, as well as money from the Maryland Lottery.
In a statement, Belinda Stronach, whose company, The Stronach Group, owns both Laurel and Pimlico, thanked the legislature.
“I would like to thank Maryland’s policy makers for the passage of the legislation that paves the way for an enhanced Preakness in Baltimore, the revitalization of year round racing at Laurel Park and reinvestment in the many communities of interest near and related to the racing industry,” she said. “Their tireless efforts, particularly as they work to prioritize the health and well-being of Maryland’s citizens during these difficult times, is highly commendable.”
Alan Rifkin, counsel for the Stronach Group, said in a statement, “This is a historic day for racing and the many communities of interest that are connected to and dependent upon thoroughbred racing, and in these difficult times a ray of optimism that is well needed.”
According to a legislative analysis attached to the Senate bill, the bulk of the bonds would be issued by fiscal year 2022. The bonds will be repaid by fiscal year 2051.
Under the plan, the racing surface at Pimlico would be reoriented and a new, modern clubhouse would be built, with an eye toward making the building a community flex-space on days when there is no racing. Baltimore City would be given control of the new track, and the right to develop land around it.
To run the Preakness, Stronach would spend $8-10 million to install temporary seating and suites–similar to a professional golf tournament–to accommodate crowds that, in the past, have routinely exceeded 100,000 people.
Down at Laurel, the primary home of thoroughbred racing in the state, the Maryland Jockey Club would build a new grandstand, new stalls, an all-weather track and enhanced training facilities.
Today’s legislative action comes a year after a bitter fight over the fate of the Preakness at Pimlico. During the 2019 session, Stronach supported a bill to allot funds to redevelop Laurel Park as a “super track” and, ostensibly, the future home of the Preakness Stakes. City lawmakers eventually rallied to have the legislation killed.
State law requires the Preakness to be held at Pimlico except in the event of an emergency, but deteriorating conditions at the track posed a potential threat. The city sued for control of both the race itself and the track, arguing that the years of disinvestment and abuse were a “disaster that [Stronach is] in the process of creating.”
The suit was dropped in June 2019, and both sides entered a new round of negotiations. In October, they announced an agreement to build two new tracks.
William H. “Bill” Cole IV, the former president and CEO of the Baltimore Development Corporation who negotiated the Pimlico talks on behalf of the city, told Baltimore Fishbowl at the time that both sides recognized there was a way to rejuvenate Laurel and keep the second jewel of the Triple Crown in Baltimore.
“We ended up, I think early on, recognizing that there was a path here,” he said.
This story has been updated.
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