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'Historic' deal aims to keep Preakness in Baltimore; track owner, city reach agreement after 4 months of talks

Jeff Barker and Pamela Wood, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in Horse Racing

BALTIMORE -- The city of Baltimore and the owners of the historic but dilapidated Pimlico Race Course have come up with a way to keep the prestigious Preakness Stakes at the 149-year-old track in Northwest Baltimore.

The parties briefed The Baltimore Sun on the deal that could end vexing problems that have lingered for decades over funding for improvements, sports fans' changing tastes, and tensions between local leaders, neighbors and the operators of the track. Last winter, the city sued the track owner, and officials of The Stronach Group said they were committed to holding the Preakness at Pimlico only through 2020.

Now, The Stronach Group has pledged to donate the land to the city or an entity created by the city for development in and around the track. Pimlico's antiquated grandstand and clubhouse would be demolished. A new clubhouse would be built and the track rotated 30 degrees to the northeast to create nine parcels of land that could be sold for private development.

In all, Pimlico would receive $199.5 million as part of the project. Training and stable operations would be consolidated at The Stronach Group's track at Laurel Park in Anne Arundel County, which would receive $173.4 million for improvements. The Stronach Group would look to divest itself of the Bowie Training Center.

Baltimore city and state legislative leaders hailed the plan as one that would keep the 144-year-old race, the second leg of racing's Triple Crown, at its longtime home.

"This is an historic moment," Democratic Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young said in a prepared statement. "The Preakness Stakes is an important part of the city's legacy and future."

 

Belinda Stronach, the chairwoman and president of The Stronach Group, which owns the Maryland Jockey Club, said the agreement contained "transformative plans for the racing industry in Maryland."

But even those who drafted the agreement acknowledge it would require multiple changes to state law by the General Assembly in 2020, the assumption of new responsibilities by the Maryland Stadium Authority, as well as the possible creation of an organization to own and run the site. Alan Rifkin, who represented the jockey club in four months of discussions to develop the plan, said he did not know what would happen to the recommendations if there was not swift legislative approval.

"I don't have a crystal ball," he said.

The estimated timetable calls for construction to be completed in three to four years after its approved by the legislature. Under the deal, the Preakness would remain at Pimlico even during construction.

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