This taxpayer would be glad to see some of his annual income go to the redevelopment, renovation, reimagining, rebuilding — whatever “re” applies — of Pimlico Race Course if it would spare us the annual misery of hearing men in suits make threats about moving the Preakness Stakes to Laurel.
And not because I don’t go to Laurel.
Because I’m sick of hearing it. Aren’t you?
Bad enough that it rained this year and turned the track to mud and fog. Preakness Day is one of the biggest days of the Baltimore year, when we get national media coverage for something other than crime or municipal dysfunction. But a representative of the track’s ownership still rained on our rain with another salvo of sound bites about how Pimlico is unworthy of further investment.
It wasn’t the first time we’ve heard this. Grim forecasts for the Preakness in Baltimore are a rite of spring.
So I would be happy to cough up my part, as a Maryland and Baltimore City taxpayer, to hear these corporate machinations no more.
Why is this taking so long?
Keeping the Preakness in B-town seems to me a straightforward proposition.
Pimlico is, depending on which history you read, either the second- or third-oldest thoroughbred track in the country. The Preakness is older than the Kentucky Derby. It dates to May 1873, the same month of the Battle of Montejurra during the last Carlist War in Spain — just to give you a frame of reference.
After a period in the late 19th century when the Preakness was either not held or held at other tracks, it returned to Pimlico and has been staged there for the last 109 years.
It should stay there. And not just for emotional reasons. For sound business reasons. “Never make a problem out of an opportunity,” I once heard a guy say, and that’s what the Preakness and a better Pimlico represent.
So, first off, we should not let the current owners move the big race to Laurel. There’s a state law that would keep them from doing that unless there’s a disaster or an emergency.
But — and this has been obvious for a couple of decades now — Pimlico needs big love. And I don’t just mean new toilets and conduit. It needs the third “re” I mentioned at the top of this column. It needs to be reimagined.
Nobody asked me, but the state and the city should work out a deal to redevelop the place with the current owners, the Stronach Group. And this should happen yesterday.
The state and the city have a lot at stake. Preserving the Preakness and Pimlico goes right along with the improvements the state, through the General Assembly and the Maryland Racing Commision, already made to the thoroughbred picture in Maryland.
The current owners plan no further investment, and that was pretty clear from what Tim Ritvo, Stronach’s chief operating officer, said on Preakness Day. Then, short of buying the track, the state should propose an elaborate redevelopment partnership.
Larry Hogan, who was a successful real estate broker before becoming governor of Maryland, could get this done.
“The Preakness isn’t going anywhere,” he told WBAL-TV. The governor hurt the city with his decisions on the Red Line rail system and the State Center redevelopment. He could at least put his business acumen to work on Pimlico and, while he’s at it, Mayor Catherine Pugh’s plans for Park Heights.
However the new ownership arrangement shakes out — either in private hands or public-private hands — Pimlico should be in some way useful almost every day of the year.
To that end, I suggest the following:
Keep the dirt and turf tracks where they are, and do what some smarty-pants architect recommends for the clubhouse and grandstand — either open them up to an extravagant renovation, or tear them down and start over. Build luxury boxes. Build a parking garage.
Give up some of the parking area for other uses. Sinai Hospital already purchased some of the land for an outpatient care facility. There could be a shopping center. There could be a concert venue. There could be an outdoor cinema.
Open up some of the space for a soccer field or a bicycle track. Hell, build a velodrome.
Bring back the Baltimore City Fair and stage it at Pimlico. It was a great annual event, born out of the aftermath of the 1968 riots to help the city heal and showcase Baltimore’s diverse neighborhoods. A lot of people in this town would like to see it again.
Provide a stabling area for Baltimore’s arabbers so they can service Park Heights and Mount Washington with their horse-drawn produce wagons.
What a great place for 5Ks and 10Ks, all kinds of walk-or-run fundraisers.
Let there be other equestrian events: Dressage, draft-horse competitions, mounted archers, dog-and-pony shows.
If William Donald Schaefer, Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor, were still alive, I know what he’d say: “Do it now!”