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Op-ed

Baltimore mayor: Preakness more inclusive of surrounding community this year | GUEST COMMENTARY

On the third Saturday in May, a national spotlight shines on Baltimore for the running of the Preakness Stakes. The true meaning of this annual occurrence sometimes gets lost on all of us who care deeply about the city. But it is an opportunity for us to show the country what the real Baltimore is — welcoming, resilient, vibrant and incredibly diverse. Some have said that it’s like having the Super Bowl every year at the corner of Haywood and Belvedere venues.

Even with the collective pride in the Preakness, many folks — like those of us who come from the Park Heights and Pimlico communities — felt left out for years. Many in those neighborhoods saw the track as a barrier between communities. The Preakness was a painful reminder of disinvestment and the sidelining of the Black experience as it was held within Northwest Baltimore, but not with the community of Northwest Baltimore.

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Growing up as a young Black man in Park Heights, I didn’t feel like Preakness was for me. I didn’t feel welcome in my neighborhood. I am delighted to say that what I saw last weekend at Pimlico was something different. What I saw was a thoughtful effort to reimagine the entire weekend of Preakness festivities to be an inclusive and more accessible bridge connecting all our communities.

For too long, the surrounding neighborhoods saw what appeared to be the intentional disinvestment in Pimlico as the facilities continued to deteriorate to the point of no return. There was no real connection to the community, and both racing days and jobs at the track started to disappear. To be sure, the relationship between the track owners, the city, and the community has not always been great, but it appears that those days are behind us.

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As we finally move forward with the long-awaited redevelopment of the Pimlico Race Course, I sincerely appreciate the hard work, vision and support of the state legislative leaders and others. They have designed a thoughtful and creative plan that activates community uses of the new Pimlico, while also enhancing the interests of the communities around the track. Once completed, Pimlico will be a community asset year-round while also hosting the Preakness Stakes, our treasured second jewel of racing’s Triple Crown. With two new schools, a new recreation center, a new public library and more housing development to come, there is certainly much to celebrate in Park Heights, along with the reimaged Pimlico.

I applaud the 1/ST group of companies (pronounced “first”) for making an effort to present inclusive and accessible promotions and events this year. Having grown up in Park Heights, I was particularly excited to see a focus on that neighborhood throughout the Preakness meet with special events, concerts and a true celebration of community. I am incredibly grateful to Park Heights Renaissance and all the community leaders who continue to make sure that we focus on more than just rebuilding the track. In fact, Preakness was the culmination of a week of victories in Park Heights. The Thursday before, we officially opened Renaissance Row Apartments, just a stone’s throw from my childhood home on the site of former vacant properties. Then on Friday, we broke ground on the Woodland Gardens II senior living facility.

It is critical that the Preakness continues to be one of Baltimore’s signature events. There’s nothing like it. Its home is here in Baltimore, now and always. I’m heartened by what I saw last weekend and still emotional about seeing friends and others who told me it was their first time attending because it was the first time they felt welcomed. Nothing is perfect, and we all can certainly work to do even more to connect our communities and expand access to everyone. For today, my compliments to Belinda Stronach, Kevin Liles, Jimmy Vargas and the Maryland Jockey Club for their inclusive vision and efforts. And, as important, thanks to all who joined in the festivities.

This year’s Preakness weekend represented the first step in what I always imagined the event could be, but it is not the last as we work to make it bigger, better and more inclusive each and every year.

Brandon Scott (mayor@baltimorecity.gov) is the mayor of Baltimore.


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