BBJ: GBC’s Fry calls on Maryland General Assembly to OK $375M Pimlico deal

Editor’s note: The following op-ed appeared on the Baltimore Business Journal’s website on Feb. 5, 2020.

By Donald C. Fry

For more than 140 years, Baltimore has proudly hosted the annual Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of the esteemed Triple Crown, at the historic Pimlico Race Track.

As business and civic leaders representing the Greater Baltimore region, the Greater Baltimore Committee honors the tradition of horse racing in Maryland and recognizes the significant economic impact that the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico brings to the region each year.

At this time last year, the future of the Preakness Stakes running in Baltimore was grim as legislation was introduced in the General Assembly that would have directed funding to consolidate all racing activities, including the running of the Preakness Stakes, to Laurel Park.

The GBC urged the legislature to press pause on what had become a highly emotional debate and to encourage the involved parties to negotiate prior to passing legislation that would significantly modify the funding structure for racing facilities and dramatically alter the tradition of horse racing in Maryland. The raucous debate continued up until the last day of session, but the legislation ultimately failed. Nevertheless, the future of the Preakness in Baltimore and the racetrack at Pimlico remained uncertain.

Then something good emerged from the rancor. In the months that followed, the involved parties and stakeholders quietly convened and began negotiations to identify solutions for the future of horse racing in Maryland. These negotiations were productive and resulted in a solution that will allow the Preakness Stakes to continue running in Baltimore — where it belongs — while also improving facilities at Laurel Park and Timonium and positively impacting the communities adjacent to the Pimlico Race Track.

We often hear elected officials declare that a legislative proposal or new program is a “win-win” for all the involved parties. Typically, that declaration is an overstatement. However, a thorough analysis of this negotiated agreement reveals that the Stronach Group, the City of Baltimore, the racing industry, and the neighborhoods affected by the changes at Pimlico race track have achieved their desired goals.

Most horse racing activities will be consolidated at Laurel Park — a prime consideration of the Stronach Group and Maryland Jockey Club.

The Pimlico Race Track facility will receive a “facelift” and the Preakness Stakes will continue to be run annually in Baltimore. The newly constructed mixed use facility will serve as a year-round community destination and other land surrounding the track will provide tremendous potential to spur need economic development in the adjacent communities, including Park Heights — all major desires of the city.

Much of the funding for the improvement will be provided through bonds sold by the Maryland Stadium Authority. The Maryland Horsemen’s Association has agreed to contribute $5 million annually toward the project and the city of Baltimore has pledged $3.5 million annually of Park Heights community impact funds, which will leverage $60 million in bonds for infrastructure improvements. This represents an example of a true public-private partnership that will benefit the people of the State of Maryland.

It’s not often that a debate of this intensity leads to a resolution that truly reflects a win for all parties. The GBC commends the commitment and dedication of the negotiating parties to reach a solution that benefits multiple communities, enhances horse racing, and preserves the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore.

The plan has received support from Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewszki, Jr. and Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, and now requires passage by the Maryland General Assembly. Legislative leaders including Senate President Bill Ferguson, House Speaker Adrienne Jones, Senate Budget & Taxation Committee Chair Guy Guzzone, and Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings have highlighted the Racing and Community Development Act of 2020 as a top priority for this legislative session.

The GBC urges members of the Maryland General Assembly to recognize the significance of this proposal to the preservation of the state’s horse racing industry and tradition, and to cross the finish line by passing this important legislation.