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Baltimore leaders to rally in Annapolis on Friday morning to 'save the Preakness'

Baltimore leaders are planning to bus residents to Annapolis Friday for a “big rally to keep the Preakness in Baltimore.”

The rally comes as lawmakers in the General Assembly are considering two bills central to the future of horse racing in the state — and pivotal to where the second jewel of the sport’s Triple Crown will be run.

One bill, supported by Baltimore leaders, would establish a work group to implement a more-than-$400 million plan to rebuild 148-year-old Pimlico Race Course as a permanent home for the Preakness Stakes.

A second, opposed by city leadership, would help fund creation of a so-called “super track” in Laurel, where potentially the race could move.

George Mitchell, a Park Heights community leader, said he is organizing a bus trip from the Langston Hughes Community Business and Resource Center to Annapolis that will leave at 10:15 a.m. He said he will be providing free food and T-shirts for those attending the rally.

Mitchell would not disclose who is paying for the bus trip, but said they are a “few people who got together to help fund this thing.” He said he hoped hundreds would attend the rally.

“We don’t need the Preakness leaving Park Heights," Mitchell said. “It would be like Baltimore losing Old Bay or crabs. Why would someone take the Preakness away? Are we supposed to lay down and let Laurel take it?”

Stronach Chief Operating Officer Tim Ritvo, whose company owns the race as well as Pimlico and Laurel racetracks, has openly said he would like to move the race to Laurel. The company is pushing state officials to green-light funding of a $120 million Laurel redevelopment.

But Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh is arguing the tracks’ Canadian owners would leave Pimlico as nothing more than a “fenced-in vacant lot.”

“The Preakness belongs to Baltimore,” said Pugh, noting that the Stronach Group receives taxpayer money. “They are getting state dollars. They can’t take state dollars and then act like they don’t have any public responsibility.”

She added: “The message of the rally is we love the Preakness. It belongs in Baltimore.”

Baltimore lawmakers have introduced legislation in the current legislative session to require the tracks’ owners to meet with city and state officials to come up with a plan to move forward on an ambitious redevelopment of Pimlico drawn up by the Maryland Stadium Authority. The stadium authority plan envisions a multiuse development at Pimlico — including the racetrack, but also other entertainment options, shops and homes — at a cost of more than $400 million.

Ritvo thinks a better use of state dollars would be to the south.

He said he supports the right of Baltimore leaders to organize a rally. But he said the bill for development at Laurel is not necessarily anti-Pimlico.

“Our bill has nothing to do with the Preakness,” he said. “The mayor can organize all she wants, that’s fine.”

Ritvo said he wished the mayor would consider alternatives to horse racing at the Pimlico site.

“I just wish that people would look at what else could be used on the site that would better serve the public than a racetrack,” Ritvo said. “She’s been pretty aggressive and gone a little low. I understand she’s all in. She’s trying to save the Preakness.”

City boosters see the Preakness as part of Baltimore’s rich history and potentially a major economic contributor to one of its poorer neighborhoods, if the track were overhauled.

The rally is planned for 11:45 a.m. outside the State House.

The legislation to help create a “super track” in Laurel as well as the bill to create a Pimlico work group will be heard in committee at 1 p.m.

luke.broadwater@baltsun.com

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