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Report estimates cost of updating Pimlico could reach $320M

A Preakness race in 2006. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

A Preakness race in 2006. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

A state study examining necessary upgrades to Pimlico Race Course, which could be vital to keeping the Preakness Stakes at the historic track, estimates the cost of the renovations to be between $248 million and $321 million.

The Maryland Stadium Authority released the first phase of a report on Friday that examines all of the needed renovations at the race track in northwest Baltimore.

“Given the age and state of the facilities at Pimlico, we do not believe that a piecemeal renovation approach will deliver the desired result of resolving these challenges, nor would such an approach be feasible given the extent of work required. Additionally, a minimalist approach to renovation with less emphasis on overall facility redevelopment and event experience may not yield the same return on investment,” according to the report.

The city has long feared losing the second jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown because of the condition of the aging race course and blight in some of the surrounding communities.

Mayor Catherine Pugh, during a news conference, said she was briefed on the Maryland Stadium Authority report before it was released and expressed optimism that the running of the Preakness Stakes — the state’s largest single-day sporting event in terms of attendance — will stay in Charm City.

“There’s nothing in there that should preclude Baltimore from having the Preakness remain in Baltimore. We’re going to have to be as committed to economic development of the track as we have been to other areas of our city,” Pugh said. “The track just happens to be in a part of the city that is in urgent need of development.”

Pugh said the redevelopment of the track will require public and private partnerships and vowed the city would fight to keep the race at Pimlico.

“We’re going to do whatever’s necessary because it creates jobs and opportunities, especially for people who live in that neighborhood. We will do everything we can to assure that the Preakness stays in Baltimore,” Pugh said.

The mayor also touted the race as an opportunity for publicity for the city that cannot get anywhere else. Pugh, a former public relations professional, has often said a goal of her administration is to help the city do a better job of “telling its story.”

“We are one of the jewels in the Triple Crown, that’s major, we can’t get that publicity anywhere, couldn’t buy it. Couldn’t pay for it, the focus that it does for Baltimore,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to showcase it in a bright light.”

Pimlico’s history dates back to 1870, according to the track’s website, when the Maryland Jockey Club built it for $25,000. But the track, sometimes referred to as “Old Hill Top” has fallen on hard times in recent years because of the decline of surrounding neighborhoods, a decrease in interest in horse racing and the resulting decline in track facilities.

Pimlico’s owner, the Stronach Group, also owns Laurel Park in Prince George’s County. It’s long been rumored the historic race could be moved from the city to that track, which has undergone millions of dollars in upgrades in recent years.

Pugh previously said she would like to make economic development in the Park Heights community near Pimlico a priority.

A proposed spending plan for Pimlico Area Local Impact Aid, slot funds meant to help areas near the track, suggests spending 85 percent of those funds in the Park Heights Master Plan area, a 10 percent increase over what was previously spent in that section of the community.

“The corridor of Park Heights must be fixed. We have 140 some-odd boarded-up houses on Park Heights (Avenue),” Pugh said.

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