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Before deal to keep Preakness in Baltimore can reach finish line, it will face jostling in General Assembly

Luke Broadwater and Pamela Wood, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in Horse Racing

BALTIMORE -- While Baltimore leaders celebrate a deal to keep the Preakness Stakes in the city, tough questions await the proposal in next year's General Assembly session.

Wouldn't the money proposed to renovate the Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park tracks be better used for teachers and schools? When will lawmakers be able to see written copies of legislation and proposed lease agreements? Why didn't Prince George's County, which has a closed horse track, have a seat at the table during negotiations?

"I'm really happy to hear, after all these years of contention, that the parties were able to find a path forward," said Del. Anne Kaiser, a Montgomery County Democrat who is chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which is likely to hear any racetrack bond legislation. "As with everything, we need to dive into the details to learn more about the deal. How will this impact education funding down the line? What trade-offs will we have to make?"

The city of Baltimore and the Stronach family, owners of the historic but dilapidated Pimlico, said Friday that they had come up with a way to keep the Preakness at the 149-year-old Northwest Baltimore track.

Under the terms of the $375 million deal, roughly $200 million would be used to rebuild Pimlico, which The Stronach Group would give to the city and lease back. A new clubhouse would be built and the track rotated to create parcels of land that the city could sell for private development. Training and stable operations would move south to Laurel Park in Anne Arundel County, which would undergo a roughly $175 million renovation.

Democratic Sen. Nancy King, chairwoman of the Senate's Budget and Taxation Committee that oversees racing and gambling, said she'd been given a basic briefing of the proposal over the phone but that she needs to learn more about the details. Her committee will scrutinize the plan, as it juggles a projected budget deficit, the possibility of legalizing sports betting in Maryland and finding money to pay for ambitious public education reforms suggested by the state's Kirwan commission on education.

 

"Every time I hear the Senate president making speeches, he says: 'We're going to talk about Kirwan. We're going to talk about school construction. We're going to talk about sports betting.' He lists all these things and they're all in my committee," King said.

The parties have not yet drafted proposed legislation, but plan to do so before the next General Assembly session starts in January. The bill is expected to be complex and is tentatively dubbed the "Racing and Community Development Act of 2020."

Any law would need to authorize the Maryland Stadium Authority ? or another state entity ? to borrow money for the track redevelopments by issuing bonds. The stadium authority would be given responsibility for administering the money, a job now done by the Maryland Racing Commission.

The Stadium Authority also would manage the construction projects.

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