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A first look at a Pimlico concept development plan that shows the facility being used as a multiuse site for the community.

After a summer of rough headlines, people across the country woke up on Oct. 5 to the news that Baltimore City reached a deal to keep the Preakness in Baltimore. For those outside of the city and state, the story ends there — the middle jewel of the Triple Crown has real potential to stay in Baltimore, where it has been run for 136 years. But for Baltimore and Maryland a new chapter in racing history and innovative community redevelopment begins.

Baseball author and columnist George Will once said that the three most important things to happen in baseball were Jackie Robinson, free agency and Camden Yards. Major League cities looked to Baltimore as the model for new ballparks. Likewise, the recently unveiled plans for Pimlico — with its multipurpose clubhouse, flexible seating, year-round community uses and redevelopment of excess land — will represent a new standard for thoroughbred racing.

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In contrast to Camden Yards, the proposed Pimlico and Laurel projects will be paid for entirely with funds already dedicated to the racing industry. Taxpayers will not foot the bill. Existing revenues that are already dedicated to the racing industry will be used to pay debt on bonds issued by the Maryland Stadium Authority to rebuild basic infrastructure at Pimlico and Laurel. This means that the project will not compete for any local general fund revenues, which are used to pay for teachers, police and recreation centers, for example. In fact, by keeping the Preakness in Baltimore and redeveloping acres of vacant land, the project will grow the city’s tax base and generate millions of dollars annually for citywide priorities.

The Park Heights neighborhood is one of the biggest winners under the new proposal. In 2008, the Baltimore City Planning Commission adopted the Park Heights Master Plan, after more than 100 community meetings. In its 47 pages, the master plan refers to Pimlico 35 times, recognizing that the health and well-being of Pimlico is inextricably tied to the physical, social and economic well-being of Park Heights. According to the plan, “Pimlico’s 140 acres also represent one of the most underutilized sites in the city and an untapped resource of immense potential value to Park Heights.” Park Heights is described as “cut off” and “isolated” from the racetrack.

FILE - In this May 18, 2019, file photo, jockey Tyler Gaffalione, right, reacts aboard War of Will, as they crosses the finish line first to win the Preakness Stakes horse race at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. The owners of the historic racetrack that hosts the Preakness Stakes and Baltimore officials have reached an agreement to keep the Triple Crown series' middle jewel in the city. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)
FILE - In this May 18, 2019, file photo, jockey Tyler Gaffalione, right, reacts aboard War of Will, as they crosses the finish line first to win the Preakness Stakes horse race at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. The owners of the historic racetrack that hosts the Preakness Stakes and Baltimore officials have reached an agreement to keep the Triple Crown series' middle jewel in the city. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File) (Steve Helber/AP)

All neighborhood masterplans should have big ideas. But the audacious goals can be elusive -- not so, for the prescient Park Heights plan, which recommends reconfiguring the track to open up development on Belvedere Avenue and integrate the site with Park Heights Avenue. It reads, “Redevelopment of the frontage along Park Heights and Belvedere avenues represents an important opportunity to create a more regionally significant mixed-use development,” while recognizing the potential for Sinai Hospital, a landlocked anchor institution, to expand and create jobs. By rotating the track 30 degrees, the new Pimlico site plan can achieve this.

Although the new Pimlico is three years away, just removing the uncertain fate of Old Hilltop benefits Park Heights. Just last month, the city selected a developer to build almost 300 new homes in the heart of Park Heights. Imagine the higher confidence of prospective homeowners, businesses and developers with the stubborn Pimlico problems largely settled.

The plan unveiled for Pimlico and Laurel Park (with its new clubhouse, training and stable operations and affordable housing) represent an important first step, soon to be in the hands of the legislature. The negotiators were smart to learn the lessons from last year’s failed legislation. As the planning process unfolds, Pimlico and Laurel’s redevelopment can be a model of inclusive redevelopment. In Baltimore, planners should be careful to promote and sequence the private redevelopment of the excess Pimlico land so that it complements and not competes with the Park Heights Master Plan. The Maryland Jockey Club, Stronach Group and Thoroughbred Racing industry should engage workforce partners to identify and match job opportunities with training for nearby residents. Finally, sponsors should encourage active and representative participation toward enabling all community members and other stakeholders to meaningfully influence the decisions that affect their lives. As with all large projects, there are questions still to be answered. As the process unfolds, open and transparent dialogue about the proposal can address those questions and give all of us reasons to get behind this plan.

Andy Frank (Andrewb.frank@gmail.com) is a former executive vice president of Baltimore Development Corporation; he was the deputy mayor for Neighborhood and Economic Development under Sheila Dixon.

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