A Maryland Jockey Club attorney told the Maryland Racing Commission Thursday that the company would provide an un-redacted copy of an engineering report completed in late March that led it to close 6,670 seats at Pimlico weeks before the Preakness Stakes.
But there was a catch. Attorney Alan Rifkin asked that the commission first enter into a confidentiality agreement since the report is an issue in a lawsuit filed by Baltimore City against the Jockey Club and its owner, The Stronach Group.
Rifkin told the commissioners at a meeting Thursday at Laurel Park that he made a similar offer to the city when they requested the document, and is awaiting a response.
A day earlier leaders from Baltimore’s General Assembly delegation sent a letter to the commission asking them to force Stronach to release the report to the public. City inspectors reviewed part of the report earlier this week, and agreed with the determination that part of the Old Grandstand could no longer bear the weight of thousands of fans expected to arrive May 18 for the 144th Preakness Stakes.
The racing commission’s chair Michael Algeo asked for a complete copy of the report, agreeing to the confidentiality clause. He said they asked for the document for one reason only — safety, which he called the body’s paramount concern.
“I want to be assured that all the issues that are in that report regarding safety have been addressed,” he said. “I’m not interested in the litigation between the city and Stronach, that’s between them. I’m interested in what our job is, and that’s to make certain that we provide a safe environment for the public.”
Algeo, a retired circuit court judge, said the courts can make a determination as to whether or not the report should be released to the public under Maryland's Public Information Act.
The commission gave Rifkin a week, until May 2, to provide the language for such a confidentiality agreement.
Del. Sandy Rosenberg, who represents District 41 in Baltimore City, came to the meeting to reiterate the request his legislative colleagues made in their letter. He said he would like to see the report released to the public eventually.
“The public needs to know the circumstances surrounding this decision,” he said.
Baltimore officials have questioned the timing of the decision to close the Old Grandstand section of Pimlico, which was made April 13, just days after the end of the Maryland General Assembly session where bills to finance improvements at Laurel Park were debated, but ultimately failed.
Stronach, a Canadian company that owns both Laurel Park and Pimlico, has stated that it wants to create a super-track in Laurel that could host races like the Breeders’ Cup and eventually Preakness, while lawmakers in Baltimore have fought to revitalize Pimlico and keep the Preakness.
Rifkin said Thursday that his clients received the report at the end of March and made their decision two weeks later. He said the report’s findings are similar to those the Maryland Stadium Authority Study released last December.
“These facilities are over 100 years old, they are in various states of deterioration,” he said.
Rosenberg told the commission that the city’s delegation expects a response to the letter it sent. He said he hopes all the parties can complete discussions about the issue before next year’s legislative session.
“That’s the chance we have to enact what’s needed to fulfill the plan proposed by the stadium authority,” he said.
Baltimore Sun reporters Pamela Wood and Doug Donovan contributed to this report.