Pimlico Owner Rips Baltimore Leaders for Nixing Laurel, Preakness Plans
Posted on: April 12, 2019, 09:08h.
Last updated on: April 13, 2019, 01:11h.
UPDATE: The Stronach Group announced Saturday it will close nearly 7,000 seats for Pimlico’s upcoming meet.
In a statement, the company said it hired an independent engineering firm to study the structure. That study indicated the northern grandstand, the oldest part of the historic track, cannot safely hold the weight.
The 12-day meet starts on May 10. The Preakness Stakes will run on May 18.
“It is deeply disappointing for us and the affected ticket-holders that at a peak moment in time when we generate the most amount of income for the industry, for our company and for all stakeholders, and when we are poised to welcome racing fans to Preakness, we have to de-commission 6,670 seats,” said Bill Hecht, The Stronach Group’s CEO for U.S. Real Estate in a statement. “As the safety and security is paramount to our guests and employees, this position to forego income should in no way be interpreted as anything other than that.”
Patrons who purchased Preakness tickets in that section will be able to trade their tickets for “similar seating” the company said. Exchanges will be made through May 1.
The Stronach Group, owners of both Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park in Maryland, slammed Baltimore leaders this week after they helped scuttle plans to renovate Laurel and eventually move the Preakness Stakes to that track.
Two months ago, TSG officials laid out a plan in which it and the state would invest $120 million to renovate Laurel. The Preakness would then move to the new “super track,” possibly by 2022.
Last month, city officials filed a lawsuit against TSG in an attempt to keep the Preakness at the Baltimore track.
However, as the Maryland General Assembly ended its 2019 session earlier this week, city leaders continued to press state officials to not go through with the plan. Members of the city’s legislative delegation also balked at an alternative that would have given TSG bond money for Laurel upgrades as long as the company also worked to renovate Pimlico.
Bill Hecht, TSG’s CEO and president of U.S. real estate, decried the moves.
The City has had over three years to propose a plan and funding source to redevelop Pimlico,” Hecht said in a statement to Casino.org. “Instead, the City has derailed constructive efforts at the state level to provide a funding source intended for the betterment of the entire Maryland racing industry in favor of an ill-advised lawsuit attempting to improperly take over our business enterprise. As we’ve said before, the status quo isn’t viable, and a lawsuit isn’t a strategy.”
Pimlico Dates in Decline
TSG officials have expressed concerns about Pimlico’s viability, saying the infrastructure is badly outdated. To renovate and upgrade the track and facilities would cost more than $400 million.
Despite Pimlico’s condition, the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown, enjoyed a record crowd and handle in 2017. However, in recent years, TSG officials have been cutting back on the number of live racing dates at Pimlico.
According to the Maryland Racing Commission, Pimlico held 37 live race cards in 2015. A year later, that number dropped to 28. In 2017, TSG cut it again to 12. Total betting, which includes simulcasting, at Pimlico has dropped from $53.8 million in 2013 to $42.9 million in 2015. In 2017, gamblers bet just $22.2 million.
Laurel, meanwhile, has seen an increase in its live racing dates. The track located midway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C, went from 103 in 2015 to 150 in 2017. Surprisingly, despite more live racing, total betting at the track has dipped from $74.8 million in 2015 to $70.4 million in 2017.
Acting Mayor Reaffirms Stance
Earlier this month, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh announced she would take a leave of absence. Pugh cited health concerns. However, she’s also been the subject of criticism over a no-bid contract she received from University of Maryland officials regarding a series of children’s books she wrote.
In her place, City Council President Jack Young has taken over as the mayor. He also maintained the city’s stance on keeping the Preakness at Pimlico.
Last week, he wrote a letter to legislative leaders in Annapolis, seeking their help in the matter.
“As Baltimore’s Ex-officio Mayor, I am determined that the City of Baltimore will not lose the Preakness on my watch,” he wrote. “The City cannot afford to lose the nearly $50 million economic impact provided by the Preakness.”
Other Baltimore elected leaders also joined in the debate. State Del. Nick Mosby (D-Baltimore) tweeted last week that the plan to move the Preakness only served the interests of the family-owned company.
“Allowing The Stronach Groups(sic) lobbyists to slap a $120m tail on a $350,000 dog, is flat out wrong!” he posted.
This year’s Preakness will take place at Pimlico on May 18.
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