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Plan to renovate Pimlico and Laurel tracks clears key hurdle in Maryland General Assembly

A $389 million renovation plan for Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course, shown in this rendering, and Laurel Park in Anne Arundel County is moving forward in the Maryland General Assembly.
A $389 million renovation plan for Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course, shown in this rendering, and Laurel Park in Anne Arundel County is moving forward in the Maryland General Assembly.(credit: Populous/credit: Populous)

A $389 million plan to overhaul the Pimlico and Laurel Park thoroughbred horse racing tracks cleared a key hurdle in the Maryland General Assembly on Friday.

The plan won approval by the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on a unanimous vote, sending the measure to the Senate for consideration next week.

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“We’re doing this in a financially responsible way,” said Sen. Guy Guzzone, committee chairman and sponsor of the bill. The Howard County Democrat said he’s “very optimistic” that the plan will be approved by the Senate.

The “Racing and Community Development Act” lays out a plan for the Maryland Stadium Authority to issue up to $375 million worth of bonds to pay for massive renovations at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore and Laurel Park in Anne Arundel County.

The bonds would be paid off over 30 years, with $17 million per year from the Maryland Lottery. The lottery would then be replenished with money from slot machines that’s earmarked for supporting the racing industry.

As of now, track officials say they plan to only use $348 million in bonds, plus $24 million that’s built up in a state account that subsidizes racetrack upgrades and a one-time $17 million payment from the lottery to reach the total of $389 million.

The Stronach Group, the Canadian company that owns the tracks, would turn over the Pimlico property to the city or a city-designated entity and it would become a multiuse property that would host sports tournaments and other events most of the year.

The Maryland Stadium Authority would manage Pimlico for most of the year, under revisions to the plan made in the Senate. Then the Stronach-owned Maryland Jockey Club would lease the property for a few weeks each spring to run a horse racing meet that includes the Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of racing’s Triple Crown.

Stronach would enter into a partnership with Anne Arundel County at Laurel Park, which would allow state bonds to be used to pay for turning that track into a year-round racing and training facility.

The bill sailed through back-to-back public hearings in the House of Delegates and Senate earlier this week, with the proponents facing few critical questions.

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The Senate version of the bill also requires Stronach to donate the shuttered Bowie Training Center to be used as parkland. The House version creates a task force to study the fate of the Bowie property.

Guzzone said the Senate version of the bill includes solutions for all three Stronach thoroughbred racing properties, which he said the company has struggled to maintain.

“It helps all three of the communities involved,” he said.

Alan Rifkin, an attorney for the Maryland Jockey Club, praised senators for “taking this first, but critically important, step” to advance “this truly transformational plan.”

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