Preakness to Stay in Baltimore Under Agreement Reached by City Leaders, Stronach Officials

Posted on: October 6, 2019, 11:43h. 

Last updated on: October 7, 2019, 10:35h.

Baltimore officials and The Stronach Group (TSG) revealed over the weekend a plan that would keep The Preakness Stakes in the Maryland city while also providing funding to make upgrades at Laurel Park. The surprise announcement comes after months of public acrimony between the two sides as TSG has sought to move the second leg of horse racing’s triple crown away from the deteriorating Pimlico Race Course.

The Stronach Group and Baltimore officials have reached an agreement to renovate Pimlico Race Course and keep The Preakness Stakes in the Maryland city. (Image: The Stronach Group)

The plan, which requires legislative approval, calls for $375.5 million to be invested in both Pimlico and Laurel. Of that amount, $348 million would come from bonds issued by the state.

The agreement comes more than six months after city leaders filed a lawsuit in a local court seeking to use the condemnation process to claim Pimlico and the Preakness. That suit was filed after TSG officials urged state lawmakers to get behind a proposal to invest millions in upgrades at Laurel, which is located halfway between Baltimore and Washington, DC, and make it the new home of the Preakness.

The planned project would invest more than $199.5 million in Pimlico. That includes razing the existing grandstand at the nearly 150-year-old track and replacing it with a new clubhouse. TSG would also give the site to the city or another entity established by Baltimore officials to entice community development of the area.

“By these recommendations, if approved, we can preserve the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico for generations to come and move forward with our redevelopment plans for the Park Heights community,” Baltimore Mayor Jack Young stated in a joint press release.

New Pimlico Clubhouse Would Be Smaller, Multi-Use

Previous estimates claimed a renovation of Pimlico would cost more than $400 million. However, that estimate was for a complete rebuild and modernization of the track. The new plan involves a smaller clubhouse that would also double as a multipurpose facility for the community. Temporary seating would be added to accommodate the more than 100,000 fans the race attracts annually.

In recent years, TSG has significantly reduced the number of racing dates at the Baltimore track, mainly because of concerns about the facility. Among the concerns, state officials have said the track needed nearly 300 more toilets on site just to be up-to-date with code regulations.

Then, in April, TSG officials closed 6,670 seats because officials determined the oldest part of the track’s grandstand could no longer bear safely the weight of that many people.

Still, despite the issues with the facility, more than 130,000 people converged at Pimlico to see War of Will win the Triple Crown race. Nearly $100 million was bet on the day’s race card.

More than half of the $199.5 million investment in Pimlico would go toward demolition and site preparation work.

‘Transformative’ Plans

The agreement calls for more than $173.3 million to be invested in Laurel. That exceeds TSG’s estimates for its planned Laurel upgrades from earlier this year by more than $50 million.

The work at Laurel would include a new clubhouse area, the construction of a synthetic-surface racetrack to go between dirt and turf tracks, and new stable areas for horsemen. The amenities would be built to support racing and training year-round at the track.

These are transformative plans for the racing industry in Maryland and will benefit all of the stakeholders in the industry and the communities that surround the facilities,” TSG chairwoman and president Belinda Stronach said.

Both Young and Stronach, as well as representatives from the Maryland thoroughbred industry and other elected leaders, sent a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan and state House and Senate leaders, urging their support for the project.

“We are proud and excited to present our recommendations, which we believe present a path to ensure the continuity of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico and enhance thoroughbred horse racing for the benefit of the entire state,” the letter stated. “We look forward to working with you to make these projects a reality.”