There could be graduations, or maybe a farmer’s market — perhaps a museum, like the one at Churchill Downs.
Community members had the chance to tell the Maryland Stadium Authority what they wanted to see in the future of one of the nation’s oldest racetracks, at a forum held in the glitzy but dated clubhouse Tuesday night.
“Don’t you think we could have graduations here? It could be rented out for weddings,” said Joyce Sanders, 75, a former Pimlico employee.
The community meeting was held as part of the Maryland Stadium Authority’s Pimlico Race Course study, now in its second phase and due to be completed in December.
Finding year-round uses for the home of the second jewel of the Triple Crown is a major priority for the study, spokeswoman Rachelina Bonacci said.
“With it being fallow most of the year, it’s wasted land,” said Rosalind Griffin of Mount Washington. She had surveyed Park Heights residents to find out what kinds of events and development they’d like to see in the area. “They were more supportive of outdoor events on weekends,” she said.
State Del. Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat who represents Pimlico, challenged the authority to turn Pimlico’s infield into “a year-round mecca,” suggesting that a development on the scale of Camden Yards was in order.
While areas such as Pigtown and Hampden have been the sites of urban renewal, “This area has been forgotten about,” said Sanders, who remembers an era when Baltimoreans flocked to the Pimlico Hotel, famous for its trademark cake. Of Park Heights, she said, “It’s a big part of Baltimore city and we need it revitalized.”
Pimlico’s owners have hinted they would like to move the race to Laurel Park — an idea that was anathema to those gathered in the audience Thursday.
“Moving Preakness would be like moving Lincoln’s box at Ford’s Theatre,” said April Smith, who belongs to the Friends of Pimlico and bears an encyclopedic knowledge of the facility from her years giving tours of Old Hilltop. “It would just lose all meaning, all tradition.”
Even given Pimlico’s shabby state, Smith said, people still love coming to the Preakness, because, she said, “It is the people’s race. It’s not super fancy. It’s fun.”
Wearing a Pimlico hat and “Justify” T-shirt, Kevin Grace read a quote by Alfred Vanderbilt, former president of the Maryland Jockey Club: “Pimlico is more than a dirt track bounded by four streets. It is an accepted American institution, devoted to the best interests of a great sport, graced by time, respected for its honorable past.”
Grace would like to see a regular music venue and possibly a horse racing museum on the grounds. “There’s so much equine history here in Maryland,” he said.
Earlier this month, Frank Stronach, founder of the company that owns Pimlico, said the Preakness could stay in Baltimore, but only if redevelopment of the venerable facility is part of a broader attempt to reduce poverty in Baltimore.
Stronach’s idea for the offseason at Pimlico? An urban farm that would provide fresh produce for the rest of the city.