A legislative effort is underway in Maryland to keep the Preakness at Pimlico.
A bill introduced in Annapolis Monday would earmark $375 million funded by state bonds to rebuild Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore and Laurel Park, the state’s two biggest racetracks. It will also settle a longstanding dispute between the state and the tracks’ owner, the Stronarch Group (TSG).
TSG had threatened to move the second jewel in racing’s Triple Crown to Laurel Park in Anne Arundel County. That’s arguably in violation of a 1987 state law which dictates that the Preakness can only be moved from Pimlico “as a result of a disaster or emergency.”
The city of Baltimore has argued that any “disaster” at Pimlico was of TSG’s own making, because it had under-invested in the track, diverting most of the state aid it had received for track improvements into Laurel Park.
In a lawsuit filed against TSG last May, the city sought to seize control of Pimlico, arguing that the alleged neglect of the track was putting race-goers at risk because it was in much need of structural renovation.
The new legislation is based on an agreement thrashed out between the two parties in October that will see at least $180 million go to making improvements at Pimlico, and $155 million to Laurel Park.
If enacted, Pimlico’s crumbling grandstand and clubhouse will be demolished to make way for a new clubhouse, while the track will be rotated 30 degrees to create land to be sold to private developers.
The new clubhouse will double as a multipurpose facility for the community, while temporary seating will be added to accommodate the 100,000 race-goers the venue attracts each year.
Today’s bill introduction is a critical step forward for Baltimore, as it preserves the great tradition of the Preakness at Pimlico and signals the commitment of significant investment in the Park Heights community,” Baltimore’s Democratic Mayor Jack Young told The Baltimore Sun.
No Drain on Education
Under the terms of the October agreement, the state would have contributed $17 million a year in payments from the state’s Casino Fund – controversially, because this included money intended for Maryland’s Education Trust Fund. The new bill proposes the payments are drawn from the Lottery Fund instead.
“The goal here is to save the Preakness,” State Sen. Guy Guzzone (D-Howard County), who sponsored the bill, told the Sun. “It’s to help surrounding neighborhoods. It’s to make Laurel a viable racing venue for the long term. It’s to do so in a fiscally responsible way, where we use no funds that would have ever been programmed for education.”
The famous thoroughbred race has been held at the Pimlico Race Course since its inception in 1873 – almost. It moved to The Bronx and then Coney Island from 1890 to 1918, before returning to its spiritual home.