Study calls for demolishing Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, rebuilding at a cost of $424M

A new Maryland Stadium Authority study calls for demolishing Pimlico Race Course and rebuilding it at a cost of $424 million, according to a summary of the study’s findings obtained by The Baltimore Sun.

The full study, which was released online Thursday morning, aims to design an ideal venue to host the Preakness Stakes and considers several year-round, non-racing uses for the site in Baltimore’s Park Heights area. It recommends adding amenities at the track, such as a grocery store, other shops, a hotel and townhouses.

It suggests “demolition and removal of all existing structures on the site, including the tracks, infield, grandstand, clubhouse, equestrian barns and associated infrastructure.”

The $424 million cost estimate does not include any of the future development initiatives beyond rebuilding the clubhouse and tracks. It envisions additional projects that would be built by private developers.

The state of the Pimlico facility presents “significant challenges, which, if not addressed, may threaten its continued existence and the success of the Preakness Stakes,” according to a summary of the study’s findings.

Alan Foreman, counsel for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said it’s no surprise the report addressed more than just the track.

“It’s about the surrounding development. From the racing industry’s perspective, whatever is done needs to be in the best interest of the racing industry,” he said.

“It still begs the question of ‘How are you going to pay for it?’ ” Foreman added.

The study suggests city and state officials, the Maryland Jockey Club and The Stronach Group of Canada, which owns Pimlico and Laurel Park, enter into formal negotiations about the next steps.

The Stronach Group has said previously that it would not foot the entire bill for a renovation or rebuild and that such an undertaking would require a substantial public investment. But the company has said it is open to discussing a public-private partnership.

Belinda Stronach, chairman and president of The Stronach Group, said in a statement: “The final conclusions of the MSA report are in line with our assessment that in order to bring the facility up to par, it will require several hundreds of millions of dollars.

“The Stronach Group is investing heavily in racing and we are committed to the long-term sustainability of the thoroughbred racing industry and to the communities in which we operate in Maryland. … We ask state and local leaders, working together with all segments of the racing industry, to tackle during the upcoming legislative session the important questions surrounding not only the financial requirements for a modern stadium that can host the Preakness Stakes but how to best support the needs of the thoroughbred industry as a whole, sustainable year-round horse racing and training, an enhanced guest experience and greater fan engagement in Maryland.”

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said she was encouraged by the report’s findings, but said it was too early to know what role public subsidies could play in meeting the project’s estimated cost.

“What we believe is, this is a path forward for the Preakness in Baltimore,” Pugh said. “We know this is going to require public-private partnerships, including the state.”

Pugh said she looked forward to having more discussions with the track owners and the state.

“It’s absolutely a beginning point,” Pugh said. “We will explore every single option as it relates to keeping this here.”

City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young called the report’s suggestions a “great idea,” and added he believed city officials could come up with tax breaks and other incentives to help in the rebuilding.

But Young said he was concerned that the Preakness, the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, might move during a rebuilding and then not return.

“If they can guarantee us we won’t lose the Preakness, the city will do our part,” Young said. “The state needs to do their part, too.”

The Stronach Group has openly mulled moving the race for years — prompting an outcry from city boosters who see Pimlico Race Course as part of Baltimore’s rich history and potentially a major economic contributor to one of the city’s poorer neighborhoods, if the track were enhanced.

Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for Gov. Larry Hogan, said the governor is "on record supporting keeping the Preakness in Baltimore and at Pimlico.”

Chasse said Hogan looks forward to reading the full report when it is released Thursday.

Del. Sandy I. Rosenberg, whose district includes Pimlico, said Wednesday that he welcomed discussions about funding.

"We will be deciding how to finance a major community development project that includes a racing facility worthy of a Triple Crown race," said Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat.

The stadium authority last year released the first part of its study, which said a renovation of the dilapidated track would cost between $250 million and $300 million. The second phase of the study being released Thursday was designed to include analysis of the neighborhood surrounding the track and of possible non-racing uses for the facility. The latest study cost $426,335 and was paid for by the stadium authority, the city, the Baltimore Development Corporation and the Maryland Jockey Club.

The study found $424 million in work is needed at the track, about $100 million higher than earlier estimates. It includes $252.2 million for a multi-use clubhouse, $120.5 million for infrastructure improvements, $29.6 million in work on the infield and track and $21.5 million for demolition. Potential non-racing uses for the clubhouse, the report suggested, include hosting offtrack betting, video gaming competitions and drone racing, as well as sports gambling, although legislation to permit sports betting in Maryland failed this year in the General Assembly.

The tracks would be rebuilt. A new dirt track would be 15/16ths of a mile, compared with the current distance of 1 mile, while the rebuilt turf course would keep the current length of 7/8ths of a mile, according to the plan. The Preakness Stakes is a 1 and 3/16th mile race on the dirt track.

The infield would be renovated so it can be used for athletic and entertainment events.

The study also recommends the site be divided into four districts around the track that can be used year-round. On the northeast side of the track, there would be a mixed-use development that could include a hotel; on the northwest side, there would be homes and commercial businesses; on the southwest side, there could be a supermarket and other stores, and on the southeast side, there could be senior living and apartments, according to the study’s recommendations.

The study does not include a cost estimate or an economic impact analysis.

State Sen. Jill P. Carter, who represents the area, said Baltimore lawmakers must collectively push for a positive outcome for the neighborhood.

“We must use our leverage and collective political capital to ensure the success and longevity of the Pimlico Race Course,” she said. “Beyond the Preakness, the future of Northwest Baltimore is tied up in the venue becoming an economic engine for the surrounding neighborhoods. The price tag is high, but a worthwhile investment in Baltimore city.”

Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and Ian Duncan contributed to this article.

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