Pimlico Race Course study set to continue, pending commission and stadium authority votes

The second phase of a Maryland Stadium Authority study on the future of Pimlico Race Course is set to proceed after nearly a year of delays. The Maryland Racing Commission will vote on it Thursday and it will need subsequent approval from the authority’s board and state lawmakers.

The projected scope of the study has expanded since the first phase was unveiled in February, with the City of Baltimore agreeing to contribute $100,000 of the expected $400,000-plus cost. In exchange, the study will include broader analysis of the neighborhood around the track and of the facility’s potential uses beyond thoroughbred racing.

That’s essential, Maryland Jockey Club president Sal Sinatra said, because even a state-of-the-art track would be used for racing only a few months a year.

“The city needs to have other plans for that spot if we’re talking about putting that much money into a project,” Sinatra said.

He said the Jockey Club has already agreed to cover about half the cost of the study’s second phase. The Maryland Racing Commission will vote Thursday on whether to fund the state’s portion of the price tag.

The study would then go to a Feb. 6 vote by the Stadium Authority’s board and a subsequent 30-day review by the senate and house budget chairs in the General Assembly.

The first phase of the study said it would cost between $250 million and $320 million to renovate the dilapidated track. But Jockey Club officials have persistently argued that a total rebuild, which could be even more expensive, is necessary.

Behind the debate over Pimlico’s future looms the possibility that the Jockey Club could push to move the Preakness to Laurel Park if no deal is reached. Officials from the Jockey Club’s parent company, the Stronach Group, have said they’re willing to continue racing at a rebuilt Pimlico, but they’re not willing to foot most of the bill for the costly project.

When the first phase of the study was released, all parties said they hoped the second phase would proceed quickly and be completed by this year’s General Assembly session. But the goal now is to have the study completed by the 2019 session, after the next gubernatorial election.

Any progress is good news for those who’ve urged action on Pimlico for years.

“I am pleased to see Phase Two finally move forward on a schedule that will still enable the 2019 General Assembly to address the issue and keep the Preakness where it belongs— at Pimlico,” said state Del. Sandy Rosenberg, whose district includes the track.

Sinatra said he’s eager for answers because Pimlico becomes harder to maintain every year, even with the Preakness drawing record crowds each May.

“We’re basically using rubber bands and chewing gum to hold it together,” he said. “There’s just a lot of anxiety, because I don’t want anything bad to happen with the building at the wrong time.”

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