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Preakness needs to stay

Mayor Catherine Pugh and Park Heights community leaders rally to "Save Preakness in Baltimore." The mayor and the city delegation to the legislature oppose SB883, which would have the state issue $100 million to $120 million in government bonds to renovate Laurel Park and move the Preakness from Baltimore. (Baltimore Sun video)

For some people perception is reality. When some people see Pimlico, they see an aging and decaying old building in a blighted neighborhood. When I see Pimlico, I see the second oldest race course in America that opened in 1870. And it has survived bankruptcy, world wars and social unrest of Baltimore in 1968 after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed and the 2015 unrest after Freddie Gray died in police custody.

No one will deny that improvements need to be made to the grandstand. No one would have an issue if the building is knocked down and rebuilt. The building has changed in appearance during its 148 years of existence. Outsiders will tell you that iconic places like Yankee Stadium and the Boston Gardens were knocked down, but they wouldn’t tell you that the new facilities were built right next to the original. It’s interesting to also remember two other iconic places such as Boston’s Fenway Park and Louisville’s Churchill Downs got a face lift and were refurbished.

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Pimlico is more than a dirt oval. It is where all Triple Crown winners have run. It is were the 1938 Pimlico Special match race between Sea Biscuit and War Admiral happened and also where the first televised Baltimore broadcast occurred in October 30, 1947.

When a Baltimorean hears the words, “move a sports team or sports event,” we cringe. We remember when the Baltimore Bullets moved to the D.C. suburbs in the 1970s and when the Baltimore Colts sneaked out of town in the winter of 1984. We never got another NBA team, and it took forever to get another NFL team, the Baltimore Ravens.

We Baltimoreans always feel disrespected and have a chip on our shoulders. Our airport, Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall has the name Washington in it. Thankfully, a few years ago, they add Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s name to it and he was a Baltimorean. If you watch the Weather Channel, you will be hard pressed to find Baltimore’s weather. They show Albany, Anchorage and then Boston. They think the weather in Washington, D.C. is the same as Baltimore.

So when a person says, let’s move Preakness to Laurel, that is saying, let’s forget about the good people in Pimlico, Mt Washington, Levindale, Cylburn and Arlington as well. With redevelopment in Pimlico and the track, it can become what Oriole Park at Camden Yards is to baseball and what the Inner Harbor is to Baltimore. I can envision Pimlico having a horse racing museum that would showcase Maryland equine history, a concert venue, a shopping center and restaurants.

Now comes the way that this dream can be a reality. People didn’t think M&T Bank Stadium could happen but with the help of the Maryland lottery special scratch-off, it did. People didn’t think Oriole Park could happen but with special bonds that were purchased, it did. And then there is future revenue generated by marijuana dispensaries and casinos.

I also hope the Maryland Jockey Club contributes toward this project since The Stronach Group had $30 million to spend on a giant Pegasus statue that stands on the parking lot of Gulfstream Park. I know when you are maintaining several racetracks in several states, you tend to look heavily at the bottom line but Pimlico, just like the Preakness, would be a crown jewel (“Preakness belongs in Park Heights,” March 4).

I refuse to give up on my city despite the only negative things people see or speak about. People didn’t give up on the United States in the 1960s during the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, or Martin Luther King Jr., nor the Vietnam conflict or civil rights protests so I shall not give up on the place I call home. Remember the words of the great Alfred Vanderbilt who was once general manager of Pimlico: “Pimlico, more than a dirt track bounded by four streets, an institution graced by time respected for its honorable past.”

Kevin Grace, Baltimore

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