By T. D. Thornton
The legislative answer to the Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA)’s multi-year study that recently recommended a $424 million razing and rebuilding of Pimlico Race Course was filed in the state Senate Feb. 4.
The gist of the proposed bill? The state should conduct yet another study to figure out who might pay for what was called for in the previous study.
According to a summary of SB800, the bill, if passed, would establish “the Workgroup to Study the Implementation of Phase 2 of the MSA’s Pimlico Race Course Study [and] make recommendations regarding financing options.”
Six weeks ago, the MSA’s Phase 2 Pimlico study called for a sweeping plan to build a new 15/16-mile dirt track, seven-furlong turf track, grandstand, and four-story clubhouse as part of a shared-space neighborhood that would include athletic fields, commercial and residential mixed-use, and a health care campus. The focal point would be the construction of The Palio, a 300 by 500 foot public multi-use plaza designed to serve both as the once-annual saddling area for the Preakness while also hosting outdoor public concerts, performing arts, festivals, and markets.
But the MSA’s detailed Phase 2 research did not address who might pay for what amounts to the most ambitious racetrack reconstruction project in America in decades.
The Stronach Group (TSG), which operates both Pimlico and Laurel Park, has repeatedly expressed interest in wanting to cease all operations at Pimlico and move the second jewel of the Triple Crown to Laurel, where TSG has invested in tens of millions in upgrades in recent years. TSG management has also indicated it is not willing to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to revamp Pimlico, which last year conducted only 12 dates of racing.
Baltimore’s civic officials have been emphatic about not wanting to suffer the economic consequences of losing the Preakness to Laurel, some 25 miles south of the city.
The Baltimore Business Journal reported that Sen. Antonio Hayes, chairman of the Baltimore City Senate Delegation, and Sen. Jill Carter, who represents Park Heights, co-sponsored the bill on behalf of on behalf of Baltimore’s mayor, Catherine Pugh.
When the Phase 2 study was released, some Maryland horsemen expressed concern that the entire issue was being framed around the threat of Baltimore’s losing the privilege and history of hosting the Preakness, and not what might be best for the state’s Thoroughbred industry as a whole.
Whatever happens with the bill proposing the new study, the Preakness is unlikely to be on the move in the immediate future: The deadline for completing the new study would be Dec. 1, 2019, and by Maryland law, relocating the state’s signature horse race requires the approval of the General Assembly.