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Mfume: We can keep Preakness at Pimlico and revive the neighborhood

Reaction from Baltimore residents about a new Maryland Stadium Authority study that 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 Maryland Stadium Authority’s report on the rebuilding of Pimlico Race Course at an estimated cost of $424 million is a forward thinking idea that provides Pimlico, the community and the city with a desperately needed major economic boost.

The city, state and private enterprise have a tremendous opportunity to create a transformative legacy for the historic Pimlico Race Course and the upper Park Heights and Pimlico communities. A redesigned and rebuilt Old Hilltop, with an expanded Sinai Hospital as proposed, would serve as an anchor for the redevelopment and as an economic boost that the community and the city so desperately needs. Finding the money to go with the political will is where the city, state and private entrepreneurs must now place all of their energy and efforts.

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The two Pimlicos are closely linked. Over the decades, the track has been a symbol of pride for this community of hard-working Baltimoreans, many of them homeowners struggling against neighborhood blight, crime and vacant housing. A formerly middle-class, blue-collar neighborhood was allowed to slip slowly into decline. However, today there is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give our city renewed hope and provide residents with a vastly improved quality of life.

Officials estimate the racetrack development plan could spur up to $700 million in public-private partnerships. This, in turn, would create thousands of permanent jobs and turn the track into a center of community life. Imagine office and apartment buildings overlooking the scenic, rebuilt track; a major medical expansion by Sinai Hospital; a huge recreation park and a state-of-the-art clubhouse shared by racing fans and members of the community.

LifeBridge Health and Sinai Hospital have expressed interest in playing a key role in the community’s revival. The health care system wants to expand its prestigious medical campus to better serve citizens of Northwest Baltimore. Sinai already is the state’s largest independent academic medical center with a 483-bed community hospital and nearly 5,000 employees. Sinai needs room to grow its research, teaching and community wellness outreach. A fully developed racetrack could compliment Sinai’s future expansion.

Surrounding the clubhouse and track would be a hotel, offices, and residential buildings that generate full-time jobs for local residents. The iconic beauty of a rejuvenated Pimlico racetrack makes all this possible. Just as James Rouse’s Harborplace sparked a waterside renaissance downtown, this innovative idea for the racetrack’s redevelopment would transform Greater Pimlico and create a new engine of economic growth for Baltimore and its northwest suburbs.

But this will not happen if The Stronach Group succeeds in moving the Preakness from Baltimore as Robert Irsay did with the Colts. Ripping this iconic race from its historic home after 146 years is a senseless, cold-hearted, self-serving idea. It would rob Baltimore of Maryland’s largest annual sporting event, which generates $33 million in total spending and supports nearly 500 jobs paying $13 million in employee income.The concept outlined in the Maryland Stadium Authority report promises an exciting economic lifeline for the city if adopted and followed. It is a win-win blueprint for Pimlico residents and Maryland racing. But it will need strong public and business community support to overcome The Stronach Group’s expensive lobbying efforts in Annapolis.

Mayor Catherine Pugh is right to fight back. Redeveloping the Pimlico track grounds and the surrounding communities is not a fantasy. The Maryland Stadium Authority’s report should not be ignored. Theirs is a creative, achievable idea that aims to tie the fortunes of the community and racing together in a forward-looking way that could be immensely beneficial to all concerned. We should seriously commit ourselves to keeping the Preakness in Baltimore and seizing on this chance of a lifetime to rebuild the Pimlico and Park Heights communities and successfully tackle and combat the problems of poverty and crime. I am committed.

Kweisi Mfume, Baltimore

The writer, a Democrat, represented the Pimlico area in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1987 to 1996. He is a former member of the Baltimore City Council and later served as president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

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