The president of the Baltimore Development Corp. told a meeting of Baltimore city and county lawmakers Friday that rebuilding Pimlico Race Course would likely require an investment of at least $125 million for infrastructure by Baltimore taxpayers — but could spur $700 million in additional development in the area.
The 148-year-old track in Park Heights is the home of the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown.
But the current state of the facility presents “significant challenges, which, if not addressed, may threaten its continued existence and the success of the Preakness Stakes,” according to a December study released by the Maryland Stadium Authority. The Stronach Group, which owns the race course, has mulled moving the race for years.
City boosters see the event as part of Baltimore’s rich history and potentially a major economic contributor to one of the city’s poorer neighborhoods, if the track were overhauled.
“The city has always anticipated that it would have to do its part,” BDC President William H. Cole IV told legislators. “Losing the Preakness would have an adverse effect on the region. It’s the equivalent of us losing the Super Bowl — not just once, but every year.”
Baltimore County lawmakers asked to join the city’s delegation to the General Assembly in Annapolis to hear details of the stadium authority study, which calls for demolishing Pimlico and rebuilding it at a cost of $424 million. The study aims to design an ideal venue to host the Preakness and considers several year-round, non-racing uses for the site. It recommends adding amenities such as a grocery store, shops, a hotel and townhouses.
“For too many issues, we take separate approaches,” said Baltimore County Del. Shelly Hettleman, who represents areas near the city-county line. “This is one that demands a regional approach.”
Asked about funding the proposal, Cole said there is no money allocated for the project and that discussions between the city, state and the Stronach Group are ongoing. But he said the city anticipates spending about $125 million for infrastructure.
He said a major city-state investment in the facility and surrounding areas could spur $700 in redevelopment.
“This has the potential to be a national model for urban redevelopment,” Cole said. “Working together, I believe we can have a generational change to support the Park Heights community and the surrounding neighborhoods.”
The plan includes a four-level clubhouse and plaza area called the Palio — named after the Palio di Siena horse race in Italy — and a new track and infield positioned to open the site further to the public. The three-year proposal, endorsed by Mayor Catherine Pugh, would achieve city officials’ objectives of keeping the Preakness in Baltimore, making the 110-acre campus accessible during non-racing days and potentially transforming the nearby neighborhoods.
Coming up with funding, however, could prove difficult.
Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said in a recent interview with The Baltimore Sun that he wants to see government investment in improving education and public safety in Baltimore before money is spent on the horse-racing industry.
“I love the Preakness where it is right now. The proposal is simply razing the Preakness and putting it back in place without doing anything for the community,” Miller said. “What’s our priority? Is our priority horse racing? Or is our priority schools and education? Right now, my priority for Baltimore city is education and police protection. If we get those resolved, I’m happy to build a new Preakness in Baltimore.”
Miller also suggested moving the race to the Stronach Group’s track in Laurel would make sense.
“You’d say, ‘Just take the Preakness, put the name on it in Laurel,” he said. “We should move it to another area and at the same time develop the area where it is.”
The stadium authority study makes no recommendations about who should pay for the work. It suggests Gov. Larry Hogan, Pugh and the track owners meet and come up with a plan.
At the briefing, Del. Curt Anderson, a Baltimore Democrat, suggested a redeveloped track include an area for dirt bike riders. Del. Cheryl Glenn, a Baltimore Democrat who is chairwoman of the delegation, pledged support.
“This is very exciting,” Glenn said. “I know we’re going to do everything we can to move this project forward. We’re not going to lose the Preakness to anybody.”