A Laurel Park dormitory. Image via Del. Nick Mosby.

In response to a critical letter and photos of deteriorating conditions released by Baltimore Del. Nick Mosby, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman ordered an “immediate inspection” of the dormitories at Laurel Park where backstretch workers live.

Pittman said he directed the head of the county’s permits department to assess the dwellings as soon as possible, while ensuring the grooms, hotwalkers, exercise riders and other workers do not become homeless or lose easy access to their jobs.

“I understand that the track is currently undergoing renovations, including major capital improvements to the dormitories,” Pittman said in a statement. “We must demand improvement to the housing facilities, and we must also continue the ongoing progress at the track.”

Mosby released the photos showing moldy shared bathrooms and dirty air conditioning units yesterday, in the midst of a push by the Stronach Group, owners of both Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, to pass a bill that would award state funds to turn Laurel into a “super track”–signaling the eventual relocation of the Preakness Stakes.

In a letter to the sponsors of paired bills that would authorize $120 million in state bonds to renovate Laurel Park, Mosby called the conditions “slum-like” and accused the Stronach Group of prioritizing “horses over humans.”

Mosby called for a halt to the “super track” legislation and said the state should not give any subsidies to the racetrack owners until living conditions are improved for workers.

Pittman said he shared Mosby’s concerns, and pledged to work with the delegate and the rest of the General Assembly to improve housing at the state’s tracks.

“Everyone deserves safe and healthy housing–at the racetrack or anywhere else in Maryland,” he said.

One of the sponsors, Sen. Pam Beidle (D-Anne Arundel County), said she would not withdraw her bill, a point she reiterated in comments to The Capital Gazette following Pittman’s statement. She is, however, planning to lead the county delegation on a tour of the facilities after the legislative session.

“I think we’ll still do that if it fits in everyone’s schedule,” she told the paper. “We don’t want anyone living in an unhealthy or unsafe environment.”

In response to the photos, Stronach Group said the dormitories are older buildings and do not reflect the apartment-style living at nearby Laurel Commons. According to figures provided to Baltimore Fishbowl, Laurel Commons has 40 apartments and about 80 residents, and the dorms have 72 rooms and about 100 people living there.

The company also said it has approval from the Maryland Racing Commission to build a new 115-room dormitory, but suggested the project was being held up by the legislature’s inaction on the “super track” law.

“[Maryland Jockey Club] is waiting for final permit approval and input from legislators on the future of the three track properties.”

Stronach Group has made considerable investments into Laurel Park, including newer barns for the horses and grandstand renovations. According to a Baltimore Sun analysis, those upgrades have come at the expense of Pimlico. Since 2013, the company has received $22.5 million from the state via Maryland’s Racetrack Facilities Renewal program, and of that, 90 percent has been used to refurbish Laurel Park, the paper found.

Amid Stronach’s push to relocate the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, Mayor Catherine Pugh, the Baltimore City Council and several residents of the Park Heights neighborhood have sued Stronach, asking a city circuit court to condemn Pimlico and the Preakness so that the city can take over the track and find a new operator.

For its part, Stronach has said operating two tracks so close together is not viable, and hasn’t given any indication that it plans to contribute money to a projected $424 million overhaul of the Pimlico site backed by the city.

Avatar photo

Brandon Weigel

Brandon Weigel is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of the University of Maryland, he has been published in The Washington Post, The Sun, Baltimore Magazine, Urbanite, The Baltimore...