Residents from neighborhoods surrounding Pimlico Race Course made it clear they want the historic track redeveloped ensuring it remains home to the Preakness Stakes.
Locals overwhelmingly supported upgrading the track property during a meeting with Maryland Stadium Authority officials on Tuesday evening at the Pimlico Clubhouse. The authority held the meeting to gather public input as part of the second phase of its study examining revitalizing the decaying horse racing facility in northwest Baltimore.
“If you look what’s being done for (the $5.5 billion redevelopment of) Port Covington there’s no reason the same thing can’t be done here,” R.A. Mills, a long time Park Heights resident, said.
Unlike Port Covington, Mills said, redeveloping Pimlico won’t require $660 million in public financing. There’s an obvious business opportunity in overhauling the track, he said, the community just needs the same public support projects, such as the ones the Inner Harbor and Oriole Park at Camden Yards received.
Early last year the Maryland Stadium Authority released the first phase of its study, which placed the cost of overhauling Pimlico between $248 million and $321 million. The second phase of the authority’s study is focused on options for creating an “optimal venue” with year-round nonracing events, and is expected to be finished later this year.
Gary A. McGuigan, Maryland Stadium Authority’s senior vice president, capital projects group, told residents the goal of the session is to get input from the public on what they want from an overhauled track. The study, he said, is being conducted under the assumption Pimlico will continue to host the Preakness Stakes.
“We don’t have a dog in the fight, we don’t have a position (on how to redevelop the track),” McGuigan told residents at the start of the meeting.
For years, the declining condition of Pimlico, which dates back to 1870 and first hosted the Preakness Stakes in 1873, has led to speculation the second jewel in Thoroughbred horse racing’s Triple Crown could be moved from Baltimore.
Stronach Group, which owns Pimlico via the Maryland Jockey Club, has poured millions of dollars into overhauling Laurel Park, which is closer to the wealthier Washington metro area, while Old Hilltop has deteriorated.
Del. Samuel “Sandy” Rosenberg, who represents the Pimlico area in the Maryland General Assembly and pushed for the authority study, has expressed optimism the state will act on overhauling the track during next year’s session. But any work on Pimlico will require private buy-in comparable to what the Orioles and Ravens invested in their respective stadiums.
“We can make this vision a reality. We can make the infield a year-round facility for recreation and entertainment,” Rosenberg told stadium authority officials. “The Baltimore Development Corp. has already had serious conversations with various commercial enterprises interested in the site.”
Recent comments by executives of the Canada-based The Stronach Group on the future of the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore has cast doubt on the firm’s willingness to invest in Pimlico at the level needed to create a true public-private partnership to redevelop the track.
State and city elected officials, along with business leaders, have vowed to keep the race in northwest Baltimore. Some, such as the Greater Baltimore Committee President and CEO Don C. Fry, have called the race Baltimore’s Super Bowl.
In 2017, 140,327 people attended the race, according to the Maryland Department of Commerce, and spent an estimated $11.1 million, supporting 219 full-time equivalent jobs. Estimates including the impact of indirect spending placed total expenditures on the race last year at $38.2 million, contributing $2.6 million to state and local taxes.
For roughly 90 minutes on Tuesday, residents explained to stadium authority officials what the track means to the community, and the importance of keeping the Preakness Stakes in the neighborhood.
Residents also provided ideas on what they would like to see as part of a new Pimlico. Residents’ suggestions included a variety of potential uses like affordable housing, retail, concert venues and recreation space.
Only one speaker, Terrye Moore, pastor at New Solid Rock Fellowship Church, advocated the track be redeveloped without keeping the Preakness Stakes. Calling horse racing a “vice business,” she suggested the track site be turned into a planned urban development with a mix of senior and low-income housing.
“When I enter this place I feel like I’ve entered a time warp of an institution whose time has come and gone,” Moore said.
Following the meeting, Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton, who represents the neighborhoods on the south side of the track, said she was hopeful authority officials were listening to her constituents, but remained skeptical.
During the hearing she told authority officials they need to listen to the majority-black residents of neighborhoods like Park Heights, which has followed Pimlico’s decline.
“It’s not working because you’re not including the people on the other side (of Pimlico),” Middleton said.