Md. Senate President: Preakness “should be in Laurel”

by | Jan 10, 2019 | Breaking, Business, Maryland, MD Business, Top Stories

The status of Pimlico — and how that’s handled — is one challenge facing Maryland racing. Photo by The Racing Biz.

by Frank Vespe

Politics make strange bedfellows. The opera ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings. Insert your preferred cliche here.

The 2019 Maryland General Assembly session kicked off this week, and for supporters of rebuilding Pimlico, it’s off to a somewhat rocky start. And while it’s a long way from here to the demise of the storied old track, those looking for a positive sign from state leaders can’t be too happy with what they’ve heard.

At a conference Thursday, state Senate president Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Prince George’s) — widely considered one of the most powerful men in the state — told attendees, “If you’re for business and you’re for demographics, it [the Preakness Stakes] should be in Laurel.”

Miller spoke at the Maryland Economic Development Association winter conference. His remarks were reported in the Baltimore Business Journal.

Miller’s comments come on the heels of last month’s Maryland Stadium Authority report, which outlined one possible approach to remaking Pimlico to enable it to remain the home of the Preakness for decades to come. That report, which called for the track’s complete demolition and rebuilding, outlined an approach it said would cost $424 million.

“It’s a lot of money,” Miller said. “If an investor wants to build it, that’s fine, but for the state to come up with $400 million without doing anything for the communities in the surrounding areas is going to be very difficult to do.”

The Stadium Authority report describes a project that would seek to knit Pimlico into the neighborhoods that surround it. The paddock area, for example, would serve year-round as a venue for entertainment, street fairs, and the like. When the facility is closed to live racing, streets that now dead-end at the track’s property line would instead run through it. And the proposal is specifically designed to spur private development on the site.

But the Stadium Authority report does not specify what that private development would be, or who would pay for it. Indeed, it also does not specify any funding options at all for the project. While some, including the Baltimore Sun, have suggested a public-private partnership with Pimlico’s owners, the Stronach Group, picking up a nine-figure portion of the tab, the Stronach Group for its part has been decidedly cool to that idea, preferring instead to focus its resources on improving Laurel Park.

Miller represents Prince George’s County, one of the three counties in which Laurel Park is located. So it’s perhaps no surprise that he would support moving the Preakness to Laurel; at the same time, though, his words give the effort to shift the Middle Jewel a powerful ally.

Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has been noncommittal about the future of Old Hilltop, saying both that he would like to see the Preakness remain in Baltimore and that he does not foresee the state writing “a check for $300 million” for Pimlico.

The legislative session began on Wednesday and continues for 90 calendar days.