Maryland lawmakers introduced legislation Monday that would authorize up to $375 million in debt to rebuild the state's two largest racetracks and keep the storied Preakness Stakes horse race in Baltimore.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Guy Guzzone, chairman of the Senate's Budget and Taxation Committee, would provide at least $180 million for work at or near the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore and $155 million at Laurel Park in Anne Arundel County.
The legislation is expected to be one of the most high-profile bills of the General Assembly's 90-day session. A House of Delegates version of the bill, sponsored by Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, is likely to be introduced later this week.
"The goal here is to save the Preakness," said Guzzone, a Howard County Democrat. "It's to help surrounding neighborhoods. It's to make Laurel a viable racing venue for the long term. It's to do so in a fiscally responsible way where we use no funds that would have ever been programmed for education."
The legislation has been in the works for months, ever since the city of Baltimore and The Stronach Group, which controls racing in Maryland, reached a deal last fall to end a fractious dispute that had the company threatening to move the race to Laurel and the city suing to seize Pimlico and take control of the Preakness.
Under the deal, The Stronach Group, which owns Pimlico, pledged to donate the track's land in Northwest Baltimore to the city for development. Pimlico's antiquated grandstand and clubhouse would be demolished and a new clubhouse would be built in its place. The track would be rotated 30 degrees to create nine parcels of land that could be sold for private development.
In a statement Monday, Democratic Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young called the legislation "historic."
"Today's bill introduction is a critical step forward for Baltimore as it preserves the great tradition of Preakness at Pimlico and signals the commitment of significant investment in the Park Heights community," Young said.
The parties envision the bond money going not only for the Pimlico track and community redevelopment, but also for The Stronach Group's track at Laurel Park. Laurel would receive a new clubhouse and training facilities, along with new stables and new housing for backstretch workers. The thoroughbred industry's Maryland training and stable operations would be consolidated there.
The legislation introduced Monday makes minor tweaks to the deal, but keeps its framework largely intact.