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The New Preakness Agreement: What Does It Mean And What's Next?

October 6, 2019
An apparent breakthrough regarding the fate of Pimlico Race Course and the future of the Preakness Stakes was announced by key players in the long-running saga, signaling the strong possibility that the Second Jewel of the Triple Crown will remain at the legendary track.

A letter dated Oct. 4 addressed to members of the Maryland General Assembly, Baltimore City Council and other elected and government officials outlined a plan that calls for the rebuilding of deteriorating Pimlico, as well as millions of dollars in improvements at Laurel Park at a cost of about $375.5 million. Of that amount, almost $200 million would go toward demolishing and rebuilding Pimlico. More than $173 million would be directed at improving Laurel.

Most of the money would be raised through a bond offering of $348 million by the Maryland Stadium Authority.

However, to pay off the bonds new state legislation will be needed that would require the state's casinos to substantially extend a subsidy they've already been providing to the horse racing industry.  That subsidy currently ends beginning in 2026 running through 2032. The bonds reportedly would be 30-year bonds.

The Pimlico-Laurel proposal was announced in a letter signed by Belinda Stronach, the chairwoman and president of The Stronach Group, which owns Pimlico, Laurel and the Preakness Stakes; Baltimore Mayor Bernard "Jack" Young; Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman Jr.; Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski Jr.; attorney Alan Foreman, representing the Maryland Thoroughbred industry; Allen Rifkin, lawyer for the Maryland Jockey Club (which is owned by The Stronach Group), and William H. Cole, representing the city.

The agreement was greeted warmly by two key state politicians, State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones.

As of  Oct. 5, there was no reported substantial comment from Gov. Larry Hogan or representatives of the state's six casinos.

For the proposal to become reality, it will have to find approval in the General Assembly when the state legislature convenes in January.

If it does gain approval, the agreement would put to rest a controversy that saw The Stronach Group favoring moving the Preakness Stakes to Laurel, about a 30-minute drive south of the city, while advocates for the city battled to retain some version of Pimlico and keep the race in Baltimore.

The new Pimlico, as presented by Cole in a Baltimore Sun video, would be more of a multi-purpose community events center than a permanent single-purpose sports facility, and some of the land that now makes up the track area would be made available for private development, such as hotels.

Meanwhile, Laurel would become the permanent home of horse racing in Maryland hosting the bulk of live race days and providing for the stabling and training of thoroughbreds.

In order to hold a single-day or single-weekend world-class sports event, such as the Preakness Stakes at the newly imagined Pimlico, it would appear that temporary amenities -- referred to as overlay -- would have to be provided each year.

Cole outlined a vision that could have the new racetrack's infield utilized year-round as a multi-sports venue and a new permanent clubhouse that would accommodate various entertainment and community events.

The Stronach Group would lease the property for two months each year to get Pimlico ready for the Preakness Stakes and run the event, according to The Baltimore Sun.

The fate of the infield concerts and daylong revelry that have become a trademark of the Preakness Stakes is unclear but Rifkin indicated such activity could be held leading up to the race and not necessarily on race day itself.

Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer/PressBox