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The redevelopment of Pimlico isn't far-fetched

About 60 residents of Park Heights rallied in Annapolis to keep the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in their Northwest Baltimore neighborhood. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun video)

In December 2018, the Maryland Stadium Authority released a detailed report on the cost to rebuild a world-class, multi-use Pimlico racetrack to anchor an expansive new mixed-use community (“Study calls for demolishing Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, rebuilding at a cost of $424M,” Dec. 12). Many reacted negatively to the estimated $420 million price tag; however, opposing the potential renewal of Pimlico Race Course because of sticker shock alone is like sitting on a one-legged stool.

The stool on which Pimlico’s future should be considered rests upon: 1) the estimated development cost, which is known; 2) potential private, local, state and federal funding sources; and, 3) economic benefits to the Park Heights neighborhood, city and state. Right now, legislators, policy makers and the media are working with partial information.

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There are known economic development tools that can substantially reduce the financial burden on taxpayers. Tax Increment Financing (TIF), which uses future real estate taxes to pay for public infrastructure, has been deployed successfully for transformative projects like East Baltimore Development Initiative (EBDI) and Port Covington. For example, the city approved a $100 million TIF bond for EBDI’s 88 acres. By comparison, the increased real estate taxes on the redevelopment of a 110-acre Pimlico Race Course, which pays less than $250,000 in real estate taxes now, can generate substantially more TIF proceeds without costing taxpayers. Likewise, there are competitive federal funding sources only available to the Pimlico site. This would be on top of what the property owner would contribute.

The fact that Laurel is a less expensive option misses completely the potential long-term benefits to Park Heights in terms of revitalizing a distressed community, creating jobs, generating new tax revenues, eliminating blight and attracting new businesses. Almost 30 years ago, Camden Yards opened, changed baseball and anchored a revitalization of downtown’s West Side. A rebuilt Pimlico Race Course, home of the Preakness Stakes, can have similar outsized economic impact. Lawmakers should have all the facts before deciding to end a 136-year-old tradition and pass on the generational opportunity to transform a proud, but persistently challenged Baltimore City neighborhood.

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Andy Frank, Baltimore

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