Stronach files motion to dismiss city’s Pimlico lawsuit

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Pimlico Race Course on Preakness day. Photo by World Red Eye.

The Stronach Group today filed a motion in circuit court to dismiss the city’s lawsuit seeking control over Pimlico Race Course and the Preakness Stakes, arguing the state has exclusive jurisdiction over horse racing.

Both thoroughbred and harness racing operations, as well as off-track betting, are overseen by the Maryland Racing Commission, part of the Department of Labor, Licensing & Regulation.

The law establishing the regulatory body, the filing argues, “unequivocally provides that no ‘county, municipal corporation, or other political subdivision…’ may ‘make or enforce a local law, ordinance, or regulation about racing.'”

Under this same provision, Stronach argues, the city cannot declare an emergency to condemn and seize control of the track through eminent domain. Attorneys for the company also say the city failed to follow proper state guidelines for using eminent domain, because officials did not contact the track owners at least 30 days before filing their motion to seize the property.

Stronach says in the filing that it has requested emergency status from the Maryland Racing Commission, and the organization “has not taken any action under its delegated administrative authority.”

This is key, because state law requires the Preakness to be held at Pimlico unless there is an emergency or natural disaster. Representatives from Stronach have frequently said it does not make financial sense for the company to operate two tracks so close to each other, and Maryland Jockey Club President Tim Ritvo echoed those sentiments in a statement.

“It is disconcerting that the City is attempting to confiscate the Maryland Jockey Club’s private property and assets because we have raised legitimate questions as to whether the Maryland racing industry can sustain two sprawling and capital-intensive racetracks less than 20 miles apart from one another.”

The company also says it has made good faith efforts to negotiate with the city, even after the lawsuit from then-Mayor Catherine Pugh and the city council was reported in the press.

“We have repeatedly suggested to the City that it should reconsider the wisdom of its lawsuit so that good faith discussions between the City, State and all stakeholders could be conducted without the shadow of this ill-conceived action,” attorney Alan Rifkin said in a statement. “Unfortunately, our suggestion has gone unheeded and we are compelled to file this Motion to Dismiss.”

Last month, Stronach decided to decommission about 7,000 seats within the Old Grandstand section of Pimlico, part of which dates to the 19th century. In comments to Baltimore Fishbowl, Bill Hecht, CEO of U.S. Real Estate for Stronach, said the structure’s deteriorating conditions show the building is beyond saving.

“The structure needs to be replaced not repaired, and that’s a very costly proposition given the lack of integrity in concrete and other supportive structures,” he said.

During the General Assembly session, Stronach sought approval for a bill that would have authorized the Maryland Economic Development Corporation (MEDCO) to issue $120 million in bonds to turn the company’s other Maryland property, Laurel Park, into a “super track,” and the likely future home of the Preakness.

The bill eventually died after the city delegation in the House of Delegates signaled it would vote against it. According to the motion, the city has not removed parts of the lawsuit that reference the MEDCO bill, even though City Solicitor Andre Davis had previously said he would.

Leaders in Baltimore have endorsed a $424 million plan, developed by the Maryland Stadium Authority, to rotate the track and construct a new grandstand, as well as commercial and residential properties.

Baltimore Fishbowl has reached out to Davis for comment on the motion.

Brandon Weigel

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