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Pimlico: a pivotal opportunity for Northwest Baltimore | COMMENTARY

The Maryland General Assembly will take up a plan this session to redevelop Pimlico Racecourse in Baltimore that will include keeping the annual Preakness race.
The Maryland General Assembly will take up a plan this session to redevelop Pimlico Racecourse in Baltimore that will include keeping the annual Preakness race.(Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

A Pivotal Opportunity for Northwest Baltimore

The General Assembly will take up legislation this session that represents a pivotal moment for the future of Northwest Baltimore.

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The legislation outlines an expansive new plan for Pimlico race course that could benefit the surrounding neighborhoods for years to come. The package to redevelop Pimlico Race Course — carefully negotiated over many months — ensures the historic Preakness Stakes stays in Baltimore, offers a clear vision for horse racing’s future in Maryland and creates the kind of momentum that is critical for redeveloping and strengthening Central Park Heights and beyond.

All of us who are committed to the communities surrounding Pimlico have experienced many highs and lows over the years when it comes to the tracks. A year ago, when the General Assembly debated the future of the Preakness in Baltimore, we were genuinely concerned that the Preakness would be leaving its longtime Pimlico home and the 149-year-old racetrack property would become vacant.

Today, we enthusiastically support the plan painstakingly worked out by city leaders, the owners of the Maryland Jockey Club and horse racing industry stakeholders.

We are excited to see a vision for a redesigned and rebuilt track that offers modernized facilities for the Preakness, as well as ways to use the property year-round — athletic fields in the infield; spaces for community meetings, arts festivals, concerts and banquets; and parcels for mixed-use commercial, retail and residential development, such as a supermarket, family and senior housing, office space and more.

The redevelopment of the Pimlico site is also an extraordinary job-creating opportunity during the construction phase and the many years that follow. Residents throughout Park Heights will benefit.

The Jewish community has long believed that Pimlico Race Course and the Preakness Stakes play critical roles in the economic vitality of both the nearby neighborhoods of Northwest Baltimore and greater Baltimore City, and we have shown our commitment in many ways. Over the last 30 plus years, tens of millions of public, private and foundation dollars have been invested in strengthening the neighborhoods of Park Heights.

Less than a mile away from Pimlico, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore maintains multimillion dollars of investment in a Jewish Community Center, as well as offices for such agencies, including Jewish Community Services, the Baltimore Jewish Council and CHAI (Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc.).

Also within a mile of the track, CHAI owns and operates a number of apartment buildings for seniors, and has millions of dollars on loan to homeowners who purchased and/or renovated their houses with CHAI’s assistance. CHAI is investing in maintaining and developing housing stock in the area through its Senior Home Repair, Housing Upgrades to Benefit Seniors and acquisition and rehab programs. CHAI’s commitment to the area can be seen both north and south of Northern Parkway, and its work demonstrates the importance of investing in the whole community surrounding Pimlico.

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The Pimlico site’s potential is enhanced by the nearby presence of one of Baltimore’s dedicated and proven anchor institutions, LifeBridge Health. LifeBridge has repeatedly demonstrated its commitment to Park Heights and Northwest Baltimore through its investments in health care access, workforce development and neighborhood redevelopment. In the coming years, LifeBridge plans to expand its Sinai Hospital campus through construction of new buildings on the parking lots it owns on the east side of the track.

The legislative proposal to redevelop Pimlico will only be enhanced by the participation of our Jewish nonprofit community institutions and an anchor health care institution like LifeBridge, working side by side with partners such as Park Heights Renaissance, CHAI and the Northwest Baltimore Partnership. And we believe that what happens at Pimlico will help attract the redevelopment and reinvestment needed for all of greater Park Heights — reinforcing and adding energy to efforts already in the works.

Legislative action is the only way to ensure that Park Heights gets the investment it deserves. The plan relies on existing tax revenues from Maryland’s casinos that already go to the racing industry — but lawmakers must agree to extend the lifetime of those taxes and commit to using them to finance the investment at both Pimlico and Laurel Park.

We are aware that the 90 days of the legislative session will not be easy. It’s likely that different groups will raise objections, and compromise is certain to be required by all of us.

But everyone who cares about Northwest Baltimore must keep in mind that this is about more than just racing. It’s about community investment. This plan will help ensure that Pimlico — and the communities of Park Heights — will be a vital part of the future of Baltimore City for many decades to come.

Howard Libit (hlibit@baltjc.org) and Yehuda Neuberger (yneuberger@gmail.com) are executive director and board president of the Baltimore Jewish Council, and Lisa Budlow (lbudlow@chaibaltimore.org) is CEO of CHAI. Melissa Peters. board president of CHAI, also contributed to this op-ed.

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