Maryland lawmakers are considering an ambitious $389 million plan to renovate Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park, two historic horse racing tracks. Here are key elements of the plan.
Two tracks would be overhauled
Laurel would be renovated first, and would continue to be the focus of year-round thoroughbred horse racing in Maryland. It would get new track surfaces, a new clubhouse, improved stables and better housing for track workers.
While Laurel is renovated from 2021 to 2023, all racing would be held at Pimlico in Baltimore.
Then Pimlico would get an overhaul in 2023 and 2024. And instead of a racing-focused facility, Pimlico would be renovated into a multiuse facility that would be used most of the year for youth sports events, festivals and the like.
Each spring, the Maryland Jockey Club would use Pimlico to run a short racing meet with the Preakness Stakes as the centerpiece. The Maryland Jockey Club would build temporary seating and tents each year to accommodate the large Preakness crowd.
The first Preakness at the rebuilt Pimlico would be held in May 2024.
The Stronach Group, which owns the jockey club and the tracks, would give up ownership of Pimlico by turning it over to Baltimore City or an entity designated by the city.
Land around Pimlico would be sectioned into parcels that could be sold for development by the city or the city-designated entity.
For Laurel, Stronach would enter into a ground-lease arrangement with Anne Arundel County or a county-designated entity that would run for at least 30 years. The company would have the option of regaining full ownership of the property at the end of the ground lease.
The Maryland Jockey Club would be required to have at least 180 racing days each year, between Laurel and Pimlico.
The Bowie Training Center could be turned into a park
Under the Senate version of the bill, Stronach’s shuttered training facility in Bowie would be turned over to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and the City of Bowie for use as sports fields and parkland. The bill allows for Bowie to enter into an agreement with Bowie State University so the university could use the “active recreational facilities” on the land.
The Bowie Training Center was not included in the original plan unveiled last fall. Neighbors had raised concerns that the shuttered training center might be redeveloped in a way that would worsen traffic and harm the environment.
The House of Delegates version of the bill creates a task force to study the future of the Bowie Training Center property.
One factor under consideration regarding the future of the Bowie property is whether the Maryland Jockey Club might need to temporarily reopen the training center there during construction.
Money would be borrowed to pay for the renovations
The Maryland Stadium Authority would borrow money upfront to pay for most of the work, in the form of bonds that would be sold on the market.
The total amount of the work is $389 million between the construction at Laurel and Pimlico.
The legislation would allow up to $375 million worth of bonds to be issued for the projects, though racing officials believe they may need to use only about $348 million in bonds.
Those bonds would be paid back over 30 years using $17 million per year from the Maryland Lottery.
The lottery would be replenished from three sources:
- $5 million annually in money from slot machines that otherwise would be used to fatten purses for winning horses.
- $3.5 million annually in slots money that otherwise goes to community aid in Baltimore.
- $8.5 million annually from the Racetrack Facility Renewal Account, which is slots money that pays for construction projects at tracks.
The project also would use about $24 million that will be built up and sitting in the Racetrack Facility Renewal Account and $17 million in a one-time payout from the Maryland lottery.
This financial plan differs from what was initially announced last fall.
There’s also a tax break included
The plan calls for a break on the sales tax for construction equipment and other materials that will be used in redeveloping Laurel and Pimlico.
Lawmakers have approved a similar sales tax exemption for other large projects, such as the redevelopment of an old steel mill in Sparrows Point into Tradepoint Atlantic, an industrial and logistics hub.
Lawmakers must pass a new law to make this happen
Because the plan relies on state money, a change in state law is needed. Lawmakers have introduced the “Racing and Community Development Act,” a 41-page bill that lays out the financial details.
Slightly different versions of the bill have been introduced in the House of Delegates and the state Senate.
The House’s Ways and Means Committee and the Senate’s Budget and Taxation Committee are reviewing the bills first. If the committees approve the bills, they would move to the full House and Senate for consideration.
Gov. Larry Hogan has not offered support or opposition to the plan, but has said he recognizes the importance of horse racing and keeping the Preakness in Maryland.
“I’ve always said I’d like to see the Preakness stay here in Baltimore," Hogan said when the bills were introduced in early February. "It has such a history and tradition here. I think it’s important to the city.”
The plan has key supporters, though some have questions
The proposal was worked out between officials with the Stronach Group and Baltimore City’s government after Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Stronach executive Belinda Stronach had a meeting at the 2019 Preakness. At that time, the city was suing Stronach in an effort to block the company from shutting down Pimlico and moving the Preakness. Young agreed to drop the lawsuit, which kicked off months of negotiations.
The state senator and delegates representing the Pimlico area are supporting the bill. So are Young and the county executives of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Cecil and Harford counties.
Some questions have been raised about the details of the plan. Some Republicans have suggested that instead of turning the track properties over to the city and Anne Arundel County, it would be better for the Maryland Stadium Authority to own and manage the properties.