Stronach Group COO Tim Ritvo sees grim future for Preakness at Pimlico

Tim Ritvo, the chief operating officer of the Stronach Group, said in a news conference Saturday afternoon at Pimlico Race Course before the 143rd Preakness that there are no plans on the table to invest more of the organization’s funds into the 148-year-old facility.

The Stronach Group owns and operates Pimlico and Laurel Park.

“We’ve made it pretty clear that we’re not going to put any funds into it,” Ritvo said. “No. 1, we don’t have any funds to put into it. We’re a privately owned company that has no debt and we’re in good shape. But at the same time we’re not looking to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into a facility here and continue to renovate Laurel.”

But …

“If the state — and obviously I say city and state because I don’t believe the city can do it either — if the state believed that there was a commitment that needed to be done through the [Maryland] Stadium Authority or something, obviously that’s something that we would consider,” Ritvo said. “We want to make sure we’re not here holding a gun to anyone’s head or looking for a handout.”

After saying there would be a more “elevated” experience at Laurel than Pimlico for the Preakness, Ritvo was asked if he would personally like to move the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown about 30 miles south. There have been reports that next year’s Preakness could be the last held at Pimlico.

“That’s a hard to question to answer. Obviously from what I know now, yes. What I know with the train station coming through your property from Baltimore to Washington, it’s hard to beat that,” Ritvo said. “Great grass course, great dirt track, I know the renovations we’ve done there, but if somebody was to spend $300 [million] to $500 milllion here, I probably start to like this place, too.”

Ritvo said he has empathy for what it would mean for Baltimore and the Park Heights neighborhood to lose the Preakness.

“I’m understanding of the city and the historical value of the race being run here,” Ritvo said. “But at the same time from a business perspective, we struggle to see why you would rebuild a faclity when you have another facility that you’re putting a lot of money in for day in and day out racing that actually gives a better experience from a transportation standpoint, 300 acres, more land, stuff like that.

“At the same time we’re open, we contributed into the Maryland Stadium Authority [report] to see what it would look like and how much it would cost. The great thing about it, no one’s kicking the can down the road anymore. Everyone realizes the fan experience can’t be at the elevation or level that it should be for a Triple Crown race in this facility.”

Ritvo acknowledged moving to Laurel would come at a cost in terms of attendance for an event that drew a record crowd of over 140,000 last year.

“I think we’d have a smaller attendance,” he said. “Everything is geared more to the premium quality seats. We don’t want to leave the small customer who wants to pay a $50 venue fee to get in and see it, but it seems like that’s the direction the industry’s going when you see events like the Breeders’ Cup and stuff like that. We would try to get a real layout in my head of what Laurel would look like with about 75,000 or 80,000 people.

“We’re going to move forward with that regardless. We’re going to try to get a Breeders’ Cup there. We’re going to have day in and day out racing there and those improvements needed to come whether the Preakness was moved or not. We’re open-minded that if the city [of Baltimore] and the state feel strong enough and they want to build a facility here and we operate here and we'd still be able to do that, but at the same time Laurel has to continue on that elevation of improvements and experience so that we can grow the business.”

Ritvo conceded the future of Pimlico is bleak without the Preakness.

“What keeps Pimlico here in Baltimore is the Preakness, I think if there wasn’t any Preakness, you’d probably see no racing here,” Ritvo said. “They’d have some other plans for it, and we’d like to be part of that. We’d like to find out what the solution is to help the community because Frank [Stronach] wants to leave a legacy. He built a trade technology school center here back 10 years ago [that has since closed]. He has some compassion and wants to see how he can help the community. He knows racing and the track being here 143 years hasn’t helped the neighborhood, hasn’t grown the neighborhood. … We’re not sure building a brand new race track would work unless there was a bigger investment.”

don.markus@baltsun.com

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