Following the release of a Maryland Stadium Authority report calling for a $424 million overhaul of Pimlico Race Course, Belinda Stronach, chairman and president of the Stronach Group, the owner of Pimlico and the Preakness Stakes, called on lawmakers to study funding for the plan and how the state can support the thoroughbred horse industry.
“We ask State and local leaders, working together with all segments of the racing industry, to tackle during the upcoming legislative session the important questions surrounding not only the financial requirements for a modern stadium that can host the Preakness Stakes but how to best support the needs of the Thoroughbred industry as a whole, sustainable year-round horse racing and training, an enhanced guest experience and greater fan engagement in Maryland,” Stronach wrote in a statement.
As structures at Pimlico have deteriorated over the years, the Stronach Group has mulled closing the track and moving the Preakness, the second jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown, to Laurel Park, where the company has made substantial upgrades and investments in the facilities. And they’ve made clear in the past that if the Preakness is going to remain in Baltimore, it will take money from the city and state to do it.
The $424 million price tag includes razing all the buildings on Pimlico’s 110-acre parcel, constructing a new track turned 35 degrees clockwise to better orient with the existing street grid and building new grandstands and suites, commercial and residential development, and an expanded campus from nearby LifeBridge Health.
Many of the structures at the track would be built with an eye toward multiple uses for local residents during non-racing days, the report says. The infield grass would have sports fields, the suite areas at the track can double as conference centers and meeting rooms and an open-air outdoor plaza where the horses are saddled, called the Palio, would hold outdoor concerts, festivals, markets and other events.
New roads would be built, including one that loops around the dirt oval track, or expanded, with some roads possibly going through the track, to better connect Northern Parkway, Belvedere Avenue and Park Heights Avenue.
Two other alternative plans are put forth in the report, both of which would keep the racing surface in its current orientation and construct a new clubhouse facility along with infill development. But the majority of the analysis is dedicated to the complete redo, which the report says is the only plan to “allow 360-degree public connectivity and development around the track, which will be more compatible with the community and neighboring land uses.
“Additionally, potential street connectivity through the track outside of the race meet would eliminate the public perception that Pimlico is a barrier in the core of the community. The infield could be open to public recreation and events throughout the year.”
Top city officials this morning endorsed the plan in released statements.
“MSA’s proposal for Pimlico will help transform Park Heights, create thousands of jobs for residents, and will result in more than $800 million in public and private investments,” said Mayor Catherine E. Pugh. “We’re excited by the economic opportunity this redevelopment would jump start in an area that’s experienced decades of disinvestment. We look forward to partnering with the State, Maryland Jockey Club, and The Stronach Group to turn this plan into a reality and keep the Preakness Stakes at its home in Baltimore.”
William H. Cole, president and CEO of the quasi-public Baltimore Development Corporation, said the plan connects the Park Heights neighborhood to an anchor institution in LifeBridge and surrounding neighborhoods.
“It’s about spurring equitable economic development that will encourage additional private investment and create jobs.”
In a joint statement, local representatives state Sen. Jill P. Carter, Del. Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg, newly elected Dels. Dalya Attar and Tony Bridges, and Baltimore City Councilmembers Sharon Middleton and Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer called the plan a “win-win” that “benefits the citizens of Northwest Baltimore and the rest of the city, the metropolitan region, the state, and Maryland racing.”
“Thousands of good-paying jobs will be created. Retail stores will open. Investments will serve as a catalyst for the Pimlico community,” the wrote. “We will insist that this project maximize local and minority hiring, as well as minority business opportunities.”
Under a schedule put forth by Turner Construction, demolition would begin at the site in June 2021, following the running of the Preakness. The subsequent two races would be held off-site, presumably at Laurel Park, as the new buildings are erected, and the second leg of the Triple Crown would return in 2024.
An alternative plan would keep the race on the historic track on 2021 and 2022, and move it to the newer rotated track on 2023, when only one portion of the clubhouse will be completed. The full facility would be open by 2024.
According to the report, the race has nearly $59 million in economic impact, and generates roughly $2.3 million in tax revenues for the state and $2.7 million for the city.
This is the second of two parts assessing the Preakness’ viability at Pimlico. The first, put out in February 2017, found that Pimlico was “in need of substantial renovations or complete redevelopment,” at a cost $248 million and $321 million.
Currently, a state law prohibits the race from being moved from Pimlico unless there is a ” disaster or emergency.”