Tentative agreement would give Baltimore officials but not the public the engineering report tied to Preakness seating

The city reached a tentative agreement Friday with the owners of Pimlico Race Course to receive — but not make public — an engineering report that led to the closing of 6,670 seats for the Preakness Stakes next month.

State lawmakers from Baltimore have been pushing for The Stronach Group, parent of the Maryland Jockey Club, which owns the 149-year-old track, to release the report so that they — and the public — can assess the findings for themselves.

Stronach has said it is willing to provide the report — produced in late March — to state horse racing regulators and the city, but only under a confidentiality agreement since the study examining the track’s condition is related to its defense of the city’s pending lawsuit against the company.

The city tentatively accepted Stronach’s terms Friday afternoon, allowing it to obtain the report without exposing the study to public scrutiny under the Maryland Public Information Act.

“It appears that we have an agreement for a confidential disclosure of the report to the City Law Department that will shield the report from any further disclosure under the MPIA,” City Solicitor Andre M. Davis said in an email reply to The Baltimore Sun. “We expect to finalize that agreement forthwith.”

Alan Rifkin, an attorney for the Jockey Club, said the company never disputed that the report should be released “in advance of discovery, subject to the usual confidentiality agreements that are typical of these circumstances” when a lawsuit is proceeding.

A media group said it was leery of allowing the study to remain under wraps.

“The optics look bad,” said Rebecca Snyder, executive director of the Maryland/Delaware/DC Press Association. “It’s important for the public trust to have a full accounting.”

Del. Sandy Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat whose district includes Pimlico, echoed that sentiment, saying that “the public should know what’s in the report. I’m a legislator, not a litigator.”

The city’s tentative agreement came one day after the Maryland Racing Commission agreed to a similar privacy deal as a condition for receiving the report.

“The whole focus is on safety,” commission executive director Michael Hopkins said Friday. “The commission wants the report to make sure everything that was reviewed has been appropriately addressed.”

The commission is part of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, a state agency. While it has subpoena power, the commission didn’t consider a subpoena for the report because the Jockey Club agreed to to turn it over, Hopkins said.

The Public Information Act contains exceptions allowing certain commercial and financial information to remain private.

But “you can redact things,” Snyder said. “The law doesn’t say you have to shield everything.”

Earlier this month, the Jockey Club gave city code enforcement officials portions of the engineering report concluding that the 6,670 seats in the Old Grandstand’s open-air section are “no longer suitable to sustain that level of load-bearing weight.”

State lawmakers from the city immediately asked the racing commission to require The Stronach Group to release the study.

Rifkin, the Jockey Club attorney, said: “The only question was how to do so in the context of the city’s lawsuit. I am optimistic we have found a mutually acceptable way.”

Rifkin said nothing in the report “is a surprise. It shows that the Pimlico facilities, which are over 100 years old in many instances, are in varying degrees of deterioration caused by the elements over time.”

The city’s lawsuit, filed in March, seeks to block the company from moving the Preakness or using state bonds to fund improvements at Stronach’s Laurel Park, which the company hopes to turn into a “super track” that could host large events such as the Breeders’ Cup and eventually the Preakness.

A Maryland law passed in 1987 says that the Preakness — the second leg in racing’s Triple Crown — can be moved from Pimlico “only as a result of a disaster or emergency.”

The city’s suit also asks Baltimore Circuit Court to grant it ownership of the racetrack and the Preakness through condemnation.

Rifkin said the engineering report “is materially related to allegations made by the city in its lawsuit.”

jebarker@baltsun.com

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