Gov. Hogan: No $300 million check for Pimlico

by | Mar 1, 2017 | Breaking, Business, Maryland, MD Business, Top Stories | 2 comments

by Frank Vespe

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) on Tuesday ably danced around the question of the future of Pimlico Race Course, suggesting that he understood the value of the Preakness while also casting himself as the watchdog of the taxpayers’ dime.

“We’re not going to throw any money at anything,” he said. “We’re going to be watching every single penny of the taxpayers’ money to make sure it’s spent wisely.”

The Governor’s first public comments on Old Hilltop since the release of Friday’s Maryland Stadium Authority report on the first phase of its Pimlico study came on WBAL Radio’s Derek Hunter Show.

The Stadium Authority’s study estimated that its recommended substantial renovation of Pimlico would cost between $250 million and $322 million. The study did not, however, account for off-site utility upgrades that the report said would be necessary were Pimlico to undergo such a renovation.

The state of Pimlico — an aging, crazy-quilt facility that includes an old grandstand with parts built as early as 1894, a new grandstand constructed in 1954, and a clubhouse dating from 1960 — has been a significant concern to the state’s racing community for years. The condition of the utility grid in the surrounding neighborhood is an additional cause for concern, and Pimlico has in recent years seen water pressure issues leave bathrooms inoperable and some electrical difficulties.

For a variety of reasons, the Maryland Jockey Club, which owns Pimlico, has focused its resources on renovating and improving Laurel Park, 20 or so miles south. And the company has been clear that, while it does not see spending $300 million on Pimlico in addition to its Laurel investments as fiscally responsible, it would be willing to discuss a public-private partnership.

“Obviously, the Preakness is important to the state,” Hogan acknowledged. “[But] we’re certainly not going to write a check for $300 million.”

Pimlico will host just 12 days of live racing this year — with 150 days slated for Laurel Park. Hogan noted the thin schedule during the interview.

Friday’s report marked the conclusion of the first phase of the Pimlico study. A second phase is expected to be undertaken and will take most of the rest of 2017. Hogan emphasized that Friday’s report was merely another step in a process that will take time.

“This is not something that’s going to happen overnight,” he noted. “It’s going to be probably a couple years before this is debated and finalized.”

Hogan’s comments are the latest to strike a similar chord. Just about everyone in Maryland, it seems, thinks the ideal outcome would be for the Preakness to remain in Baltimore at a refurbished Pimlico.

But where the money to renovate Old Hilltop will come from — that’s the $300 million question.