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Pimlico flooded with calls from Preakness ticket holders looking to change seats located in closed section

Pimlico Race Course has been asking for patience from ticket holders calling to exchange Preakness seats they purchased that are among the nearly 7,000 in a section that the Maryland Jockey Club has closed because it is no longer safe.

A call to the number listed for exchanging tickets – 877-206-8042 – was greeted by a message warning callers of extended waits.

“We are currently experiencing an extreme volume of calls,” the greeting stated Thursday. “If you are calling about a ticket exchange we ask you to please remain patient as we are currently speaking individually with all affected customers to determine the best seating solution for everybody.

“All affected customers have until May 1 to upgrade at no additional cost,” the recorded message continues. “So we ask for patience as we all work through this process together.”

A jockey club official said the company had sold 3,100 seats in the affected area and that it had completed transactions with 1,900 people already.

The Maryland Jockey Club’s decision — announced Saturday — to shutter the Old Grandstand at Pimlico came a little more than a month before the track’s lucrative Preakness weekend. Officials with The Stronach Group, which owns the jockey club, said the decision was based on an engineering firm’s findings they received in late March that 6,670 seats in the Old Grandstand’s open-air section are “no longer suitable to sustain that level of load bearing weight.”

In the days after the announcement, the Preakness Stakes’ official Facebook page displayed frustration from some people who commented on the company’s post about the closure.

As Pimlico officials struggled with the influx of calls, their Northwest Baltimore neighbors were planning to revel in their ability to defeat a Stronach-backed bill in the General Assembly that ended last week. The measure would have allowed the state to issue bonds to support building a “super track” complex at Laurel Park and a Bowie facility — indicating the company’s desire to leave Pimlico and take Preakness with it.

The Park Heights Renaissance community group is hosting a lunch Thursday to celebrate “the huge victory,” according to an email invitation from Marcus Pollock, the group’s executive director.

If the bill had passed, Pollock wrote, it would “cause the Preakness to move to Laurel.”

The company has said it needs to move its racing operations to Laurel because it would be too expensive to renovate Pimlico. The jockey club reported $15 million in combined operating losses for Pimlico and Laurel Park last year, a 66.6 percent increase over the nearly $9 million combined loss in the prior year.

Baltimore city housing officials had said they were dispatching inspectors to determine whether the 149-year-old facility would be able to handle the additional spectators who were being given new seats. Inspectors are scheduled to go to Pimlico on Monday.

On the Preakness Stakes’ Facebook page several people were unsure whether their tickets were in the “Northern Grandstand,” as the company’s announcement stated on the page.

The response from the Preakness Stakes’ Facebook moderator has been that the affected seats are called “Concourse Box” and “Concourse Reserved.”

Several people who left comments had clearly lost their patience, but the moderator of the page answered every concern by repeatedly providing the proper name of the closed section, giving people the phone number and an email they could use and apologizing for the inconvenience.

One person said it took her “an hour and a half” to get her tickets resolved. Another said the wait was 40 minutes.

The worst experience was reported by a man named John Augustus, who wrote that he was on hold for two hours on two separate days.

“I have 14 seats together and the only sections not sold out are hall of fame dining room seats for $225 and infield seats,” Augustus posted. “I don’t think there are 6900 seats available in the dining room and there is no available seating in the infield. What are our choices? If we aren’t able to upgrade will we get a refund?”

ddonovan@baltsun.com

twitter.com/dougdonovan

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